As writers, we are always looking for new ways to describe our characters and their situations. Our first readers often point out the various cliches that manage to slip into our work, despite our best attempts to avoid them.
Sometimes, though, a trite expression, metaphor, or phrase is exactly what we need in a given moment…not in our writing, but in our lives as writers.
Yesterday was a tough day for me. Self-doubt permeated my thoughts. I began to wonder about Patchwork and Ornament: am I overestimating its marketability? Do I have what it takes to get the book in the hands of those who would enjoy it? Am I squandering family money to cover printing and marketing costs? In short, what was I thinking?
Deep in a stereotypical writer’s funk, I went out with my husband Henry to a coffee shop where I could sort out my feelings. We talked for a long time, pouring yet again over my ideas for the book, the progress we’ve made, the layout and cover that are coming together, and all the various places I could market the book. Not to mention that every time I put a draft of the layout into people’s hands, they don’t want to put it down!
We returned home and got ready for bed. As I was falling asleep, I remembered something important about my creative process: it’s always like a birth.
This is where the trite meets the true. Birthing metaphors are as old as, well, the hills. Still, it brings me comfort to understand what’s going on. I’m seven months into this pregnancy. I’m heavy and tired, and my feet hurt. I wonder if I’ll be a good mother. I wonder if my child will be unruly. I worry about a stillbirth.
Years ago, I gave birth to a little girl. She had died in my womb, which is another story for another day, but I went through the full birthing process. I was terrified. I was at seven months, about the same place I am now with Patchwork and Ornament, and I didn’t know how to breathe yet. I had just gotten started with my classes, so I felt helpless and frightened. At one point I looked to my husband at the time and said, “I don’t think I can do this.” Yet a few minutes later, I felt her move through me and into the world where I could see and hold her. And oddly, even in a tragic moment, I felt joy. This was my daughter.
The closer I get to completing book production, the more I feel like that frightened, much younger woman, who said, “I don’t think I can do this.” Yet what I learned from my daughter is that yes, I can do this, I will do this, and in the end I will feel joy.
Trite? Maybe. But it works for me, gives me strength, reminds me that hanging on when I don’t think I can always brings a greater reward. Very soon I will hold a brand-new, colorful, vibrant baby in my hands and begin to carry her into the world.