- by Elaine Isaak
A few years ago, author Ellen Kushner lead a conversation about the metaphors we use for the creative process. Many of the women (and maybe even a few of the men) compared the creation of a novel to having a baby.
You hear this metaphor a lot. Long incubation period, sense of something growing that you can’t quite visualize, intense often agonizing labor, bringing forth something new into the world–with the help of strangers who may be sympathetic or just exasperating.
This metaphor carries on into the life of the book: sending your “baby” out the door to publishers; knowing that once it’s out of your hands, there is little you can do but watch to see how the world accepts it; and taking it personally when someone criticizes your darling.
At the time, I commented that I think of the process as more of a relationship. You catch a glimpse of something interesting, often from the corner of your eye: the idea. You are intrigued and want to know more: the research. Finally, you meet. You start probing for compatibility issues: will I be able to stand this idea for the length of time it takes to write a novel? How will it look in the morning? Will it simply vanish one day and forget to return my phone calls?
I am stalking a new idea now. A few things came together–like old friends inviting me to their party. I’ve already had the writer’s equivalent of a first date (in this case, a first chapter) and it went well, I liked it–I could see the potential, but felt that I needed more time. So I am circling around this alluring idea, reading books, asking friends what they know, uncertain whether I want to be drawn in and risk investing myself for another project that may be a hard sell. Like those bad boys in romance novels, I know I want it, I’m must afraid that I’ll lose my heart, only to be left in the lurch just when things are getting good.
But sometimes the risk is better than the search for another temptation, just as married people are relieved to be out of the dating pool, the author with a work in progress may find that, although the thrill has faded, the deeper joy of involvement remains.