The Gestation of a Novel

I am writing a novel.

There. I said it.

For many of you who know me personally, this is not news. For others, this could be a somewhat unexpected announcement. For me, though, it’s a terrifying proclamation.

You see, when something is uttered out loud, or splayed across the Internet for the world to see, it’s a COMMITMENT. I can’t take it back. It’s a permanent thing just sitting there, waiting and expectant.

I know I’m not the first person to think of this, but I equate the writing of a novel with pregnancy.

It’s all about gestation, the period of time from conception to birth. And coincidentally, the phrase “conception to birth” can apply to both embryos and novel-writing.

In publishing, there are word count standards when it comes to writing a book. These are merely guidelines, of course, as no one can predict exactly how long it will take to tell your story, just as no one can accurately predict an expectant’s mom due date.

Full-term babies need somewhere between 36 and 42 weeks to “cook” properly. Full -length novels (adult fiction, specifically) should fall somewhere between 75,000 and 90,000 words.

Just as moms-to-be experience many different stages during pregnancy, so too do writers in the process of drafting a novel. In fact, I found three distinct phases when writing a book that mimic those of pregnancy. And now that I am entering my third trimester (oh dear God, in WRITING, not baby-making!), the similarities between these two activities have become clearer to me.

FIRST TRIMESTER

Mom-To-Be (0 to 12 weeks)

At first, it doesn’t seem real, and no one knows you’re pregnant unless you tell them. You have no inkling of what the baby will look like and haven’t even thought of names yet. You spend a lot of time thinking about setting up the nursery, buying a minivan, and registering for your baby shower. You might sign up for birthing classes to get ready, but they’re not really helpful because the end is too far away. Sometimes you get so busy that you forget you’re pregnant, and then it hits you: “Oh my God! I’m having a baby!”

Novelist (0 to approx. 30,000 words)

At first, it doesn’t seem real, and no one knows you’re writing a book unless you tell them. You only have a rough idea of what the novel looks like and haven’t even thought of a title yet. You spend a lot of time thinking about character profiles, outlines, and plot arcs. You might sign up for a writers conference or view a webinar on how to get published, but they’re not really helpful because the end is too far away. Sometimes you get so busy that you forget you’re a novelist, and then it hits you: “Oh my God! I’m writing a book!”

SECOND TRIMESTER

Mom-To-Be (13 to 27 weeks)

Since you are now far enough along, you will probably get your first good look at your baby. You will show that ultrasound to those you love, and let everyone ooh and aah over it, pointing out only the positives. No one will ever say, “Gee, her head looks a little small” or “Wow! Are you sure he has all his limbs?” You will also start to feel the flutterings of what’s to come so that you can now imagine a life with your new bundle of joy. You might surround yourself with other moms-to-be and swap stories about morning sickness, stretch marks, and which breast pump got the best reviews on Amazon. You think about your baby a lot more.

Novelist (31,000 to 60,000 words)

Since you are now far enough along, you will probably get your first good look at your novel. You will show those chapters to those you love, and let everyone ooh and aah over them, pointing out only the positives. No one will ever say, “Gee, your protagonist is a little boring” or “Wow! Are you sure this is the right genre for you?” You will also start to feel the flutterings of what’s to come so that you can now imagine a life with your by-line on a front cover. You might surround yourself with other writers and swap stories about plot holes, pointless dialogue, and the dreaded info dump. You think about your book a lot more.

THIRD TRIMESTER

Mom-To-Be (28 weeks to birth)

When you are this close to the end, you just want to get there. In fact, the waiting is downright uncomfortable. At this point, you are talking to nearly everyone you run into about your baby…listening to advice, taking note of the behavior of other parents, and considering every name you hear as moniker possibilities. You think about your baby every waking moment and cannot wait to show your beautiful, perfect bundle to the world!

Novelist (61,000 words to THE END)

When you are this close to the end, you just want to get there. In fact, the waiting is downright uncomfortable. At this point, you are talking to nearly everyone you run into about your novel…listening to feedback, observing other people’s behavior as fodder for a stalled plotline, and considering every name you hear for one of your fringe characters. You think about your novel every waking moment and cannot wait to show your beautiful, perfect book to the world!

 

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So yes, I have made the commitment to write a book. Putting it out there is a big step! And I am about two-thirds of the way through my story. I’m not really sure about the piano analogy above, but since I haven’t actually “delivered” my novel, I will withhold judgment! Until then, I am enjoying the process. Wish me luck!

Are you writing a novel? Where are you in the process? What is your biggest challenge right now? What are you most proud of? Please share in the comments!

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