Why Your Manuscript Is Not Like Your Baby

Over the years, I’ve heard writers compare their manuscripts to their babies and talk about how birthing a book is similar to birthing a baby. Having had two babies myself, I don’t agree with the comparison.

But I get it. The story is your passion, your heart, your soul. You sacrifice for the story, you pour countless hours into the story, you shed blood, sweat, and tears because of the story. No wonder the analogy of child and childbirth comes to mind.

However, I think it can be dangerous to think of your manuscripts as your children, and here’s why.

1. Your manuscript isn’t perfect, just the way it is.

Imagine if someone came up to you and said: “Your daughter is delightful, but it would be great if you could make her nose a little smaller, and I’d really prefer that she express an interest in gymnastics rather than art, and while you’re at it, maybe you can make her a boy instead?”

You would understandably be outraged and declare that even if you could change any of those things, you wouldn’t. This should not be the case with your manuscript. You may love your story, but you should be willing to tear it apart, eliminate entire sub-plots, combine two characters into one, or rewrite the entire thing.

We (or at least I) are jealous of the natural writer, the one whose words flow effortlessly from their minds, the one who has an ingrained gift for storytelling. They do exist. (Probably). Just as some people are born with perfect pitch, I am sure there are people who are born understanding conflict, with an impeccable sense of pacing, and who can pull lovable, memorable characters straight from their imaginations. Sadly, I am not one of them. The rest of us mere mortals should remember that stories aren’t born. They have to be made.

2. You’re allowed to have favorites.

When my first child was born, I secretly believed that she would be my favorite. I could not fathom ever experiencing the love I had for her for anyone else. Well, guess what? I was wrong. My son was born, and lo and behold, I love him just as much. It completely blew my mind, but there it is. I could love more than one person “to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach.” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning).

This may be true about your manuscripts. But it doesn’t have to be. And in some cases, it shouldn’t be. Some of our first novels are merely that — first attempts. You may love a story, but if it’s not working, don’t be afraid to abandon it to move on to the next one. Conversely, don’t forgo a story too quickly, without giving it a chance to mature. Pick your favorites, and invest your time and energy into nurturing those ones into reaching their full potential.

3. You don’t ever have to be done with the whole writing thing.

At some point in our lives, either for physical or emotional reasons, most of us are done with childbirth or having babies. Not true with writing. We don’t have to write our first novel by a certain age. And we don’t have to stop writing when we reach a particular birthday. We can start writing at any time, and we can keep writing until the day we die.

I hope I do.

What do you think? If manuscripts are not babies, then what are they?