4 Reasons Why Your Book Is Not Your Baby

guardianpostWe’ve all heard this phrase. And I’m sure I’ve used it on this blog. It centers around the idea that you work hard to gestate the concept, cultivate it’s growth, and then set it free out into the world to see how it gets on with others.

While it’s a common metaphor, it’s not realistic for achieving your BEST manuscript and here’s why:

1. You need to be willing to throw your characters off a cliff.

Get them in hot water. Have them make bad decisions. (I don’t recommend this for your baby.) If you’re too close to your characters how is their drama going to be enticing enough for readers? We teach children to participate in conflict resolution, but make sure your fiction explores all angles of inner and interpersonal drama.

2. Writing is not unconditional love. 

You have to cut sections that don’t work and expand the ones that do. You have to release your subjectivity and be critical to a fault, constantly questioning and pushing the envelope. Sometimes you have to cut the passages and stop working on projects you really care about stylistically.

3. You have to let it go earlier than you’ll ever be ready. (Okay, this one might be similar to parenthood.)

Manuscripts are constantly in flux and nothing is finished until it’s sent to the printer. Then there’s the hand off: You’ll need an agent and take in their opinion, and then your editor will have feedback, and the list goes on. The hand off of your project and all the minds that continue to massage the concept until it’s ready for public consumption are part of the lengthy process. The book is always your book, but it will be touched by so many others along the way.

4. Rules are made to be broken.

Children need boundaries, but your book can be a rebel. All writers know the dos and don’ts of writing out there. But all writers also know that rules are just guidelines. Great writing often breaks the mold. How are you going to step outside of your comfort zone as a writer?

Image via The Guardian

Q: Do you treat your book like your baby? If not, what tools do you use to avoid it?

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

18 thoughts on “4 Reasons Why Your Book Is Not Your Baby

  1. As a newly committed writer (committed in the sense of work ethic and goal setting … don’t think mental institution) I am still growing a baby or two in the womb. My mentor often quoted “Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings” and she wept when she did just that to one of her characters in the course of a novel. (Loved that passion in her.) But kill him, she did. At the moment I am actually thinking of turning a “nice guy” in a youth novel I am writing into a “not-so-nice-guy” and I am finding it hard. Thanks for your encouragement!


  2. I love this. While I do write novel-length fiction, something flash fiction has really sent home point #2. Often what gets me into writing a piece of flash fiction is what I end up cutting during the final draft.


  3. Great post. I’m coming to the end of the first draft of my first novel…and while I’m actually really excited about beginning the second draft, I’m also a little worried about some of the sacrifices I may have to make to story, characters etc. Bravely forward!…


  4. By writing more than one book. And having great beta readers! Otherwise I’d never be able to delete a single paragraph – I’d grasp at every darling scene, every useless info-dump.


  5. I do think of my book as my baby, in that I want what’s best for it no matter the cost to me–and that it takes a village to make my ‘child’ one of quality. I make sacrifices all the live long day as a mother for my RL child, so as a writer I am willing to do what it takes to see that my virtual baby really is as wonderful as I perceive it to be. And when help is offered, I take it! Well-parented children are resilient, and so are good stories.


  6. It takes awhile to get there, though. When I first started writing I was shocked and humiliated if someone pointed out how my book could be better. Then I went through the write by committee stage. Now I ask my editing team to work as hard as I do in Caesarean and recovery. I forgot this when working recently on a trial edit for a writer who had hit the big time with a couple of books and wanted to self publish another. I was bad in that I couldn’t stop at adding in the missing period and fixing the hyphenation or lack thereof, and pointed out a couple of missing segues and weak construction, said he, she said. By the third angry response (on a trial, for crying out loud), and dire warning that such a poor editor would be fired by the big publisher, I refunded the money.


  7. On point number two, the most difficult aspect of editing my novel has been cutting a piece of writing that I really like but doesn’t actually work for the story as a whole. I’ve found it helpful to send the cuts to an autogenic slush pile with the idea that I may use them for a later project, even though I’m quite sure I never will. It’s akin to the advice we give to people who have hoarding issues. Pack it up and put it away and if you find you don’t need it in the next year, it might be easier to kick to the curb.


  8. I’ve sometimes worried about caring too much about my current novel. Now that I’ve started revising, I’m not so worried, because I’m finding it easier than I expected to cut what needs to be cut and change what needs to be changed.

    Reading this post reassured me even more with Point #1. My writing friends (and a handful of non-writers) know that the more I like a character the more crap I put them through. I love Kurt Vonnegut’s eight basic rules for creative writing; they’ve been very helpful to me as I develop my craft. The one that sticks out to me is the one that says, “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”


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