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?

24 thoughts on “Why Your Manuscript Is Not Like Your Baby

  1. I see what you are saying, Pintip. I would never want to change my daughters like I’ve been made to change my books.

    What are ‘our books’? Good question. I could say they are an extension of our creative souls–but not sure if that would fly. They are a labor of love and insight into the world as we view it (or would like to view it) but that might not be the answer either.

    I’m not sure what the answer would be… is there one true answer? I’m curious to see what others might say.

    Raising my cup of vanilla bean latte to you for such insightful thoughts. Hugs!

    1. I like your definitions, Loni! It is so hard to come up with an appropriate analogy, which is why I’m so impressed with all the responses here. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. If manuscripts are not babies, then what are they?

    A pain in my ….at the moment 🙂 They’ve become teenagers Manuscripts start out as a fun, energetic experience and end up deflating my energy until I want to shred it then I hit The End and whoaaa, look at that…a wonderful stack of stellar pages that now can be edited. Yay!

    1. Definitely have been there, Jean. But just as teenagers are a pain one minute and lovable the next, this is also phase that will pass. (At least, we can hope.) Best of luck! I know you can do it!

  3. My manuscripts might be my mother. They comfort me, challenge me, and congratulate me. When I sold my first one, a little voice said ‘I told you so.’

  4. This is funny! I don’t have kids so I don’t know. But since the last time I worked on my manuscript it was being a real something that rhymes with witch, I decided it was like one of those teenagers at the mall who stand in your way, give you attitude and wear too much makeup.

    1. Yep. I think manuscripts can definitely do that. I guess we just have to stand up to them, instead of letting them make us back down, right?

  5. I love this Pintip! Spot on. Hmmm now to play along I’m going with a manuscript is like a girl’s night out. It’s usually fun. There’s always drama. Sometimes you get a bit too carried away. And the next morning your head may ache a bit, but damn are you glad you went.

  6. Sadly, in my case another difference is that it takes a lot longer than 9 months to produce a book. 😉

  7. Pintip,
    I love this. At first I disagreed. But, after reading your post, I now agree with you.
    I guess I’ve always looked at my manuscripts as my babies because I’m very personally connected to them. They came from me. All these wonderful words and characters and feelings and story lines…they came from somewhere down deep, and I’ve always felt like I’ve birthed them.
    I don’t like people telling me that they don’t like them. I want everyone to love my books the way that I do. But, once again, comparing them to babies…not everyone loves my kids. Shocking, I know. But there it is. Everyone likes something different. Everyone has his/her own opinions. Maybe someone might think my daughter Megan is a touch bossy. I like to think of her as having good ideas and the persistence to see them through. It’s really all PR. LOL.
    But here’s where books and children are different. A book may be wonderful. It may become a bestseller. It might be the talk of every household for miles around. But….it’s never going to really love you back. It will never reach out and wrap its little fingers around one of yours. It will never give you a kiss and tell you that it loves you. Never.
    And here’s another difference. You give birth to a child, but then their own personalities come into play. You can have…let’s say five kids, and they can all be completely different. They have their own voices. They have their own choices to make. No matter how much I try to change my voice in a story, it always sounds the same to me. Because it’s MY voice. Children have their own voices. Sometimes loud, sometimes annoying, but always theirs.
    Great post, Pintip!

    1. So, so true. I love the paragraph where you talk about how a book can never love you back. I think you’ve hit on the #1 reason why manuscripts are not like children (and I didn’t even include that in my original post!) Thanks for elaborating!

  8. Gail is right – about my first book, anyway. Number two is going faster.

    Fortunately, I’ve never fallen into the trap of thinking they were perfect. A WRW member from l-o-n-g ago by the name of Courtney Henke used to give workshops and something she said stuck with me: (and I’m paraphrasing since I don’t remember her exact words) If you want to sell books, you have to be a literary whore (I’m sure she had a crisper term for this) and change whatever they (agent/publisher) want. They don’t like a character? Gone. More plot? Less plot? Do it. And so forth. So I never looked at what I wrote as anything less than mutable as needed – within limits. It doesn’t make me happy if my editor wants to cut a scene, but I figure she’s buying the product and if she wants changes, she’s going to get them. UNLESS (and I’ve seen this happen with others) the changes are so vast or fundamental that they make the book into something not yours. There is a line in the sand and when you reach it, you have to say “no.”

    I would also disagree somewhat with Kimberly. I think my books have different “personalities” because they are different stories, and the protagonists are very different people facing different challenges and overcoming them in different ways. Yes, I’m writing them, but I hope the reader can tell that they’re not the same book and that my voice does not overcome my hero’s and heroine’s as they tell their story. (Sorry, K)

    Bottom line: I hope Avery is right. That would be fun!

  9. Soooo glad the electric is back. You never really think about it until it’s gone…

  10. That’s great advice, Willa. It’s the kind of clear, no-nonsense advice that I like to follow. Makes life so much simpler.

  11. Hello my friend, sorry so late to your post, still getting used to being on the West Coast. I love your voice in this, by the way. And all the responses! Giving this some thought….I have to say I think manuscripts are like gifts. They can be hard to find, or be just right. And, sometimes, no matter how sure you are that the person is going to love them, they get returned. But no matter what, the gift giver (in this case the writer) should always have a sense that they did something good for someone else, no strings attached. Always find happiness with what you have created.

  12. Carlene, that is so lovely! The gift-giver should always feel that they did something good for someone else no strings attached. I love that! Thanks for stopping by. Hope you are enjoying your rolled tacos.

    1. Oh you know I am! But I am being good and only having them once a week instead of once a day! A mermaid’s got to watch her figure 😉 Although with the Great White Shark spotted at the beach yesterday, I’d be sure to get my exercise swimming away with all my mermaid might!

  13. Happy 4th!

    Great post! My manuscripts often include tiny pieces of me. Life experiences definitely infiltrated my first manuscript, particularly the light hearted moments. (Ha – a really cute guy sat next to me on the train one day literally piecing together his suit. As he was zipping his pants up, while his tie hit me, I thought I’ve got to get this into my WIP somehow, which I did in a humorous way.)

    I travel a lot for work but hate flying. I tackle this fear head on in my current WIP. Perhaps my stories are a bit cathartic for me.

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