I've decided that writing a novel is a whole lot like becoming a parent. As I get serious on my, as- yet-untitled fourth novel, I am reminded just how tough the process can be.
Conception - This is the fun and exciting part. Daydreaming and coming up with story ideas is as exciting and blissful as sex. Every plot, or potential child, is full of potential. With every new idea and twist and turn I can interject I can visualize literary agents beating down my door, editors vying for the rights, book clubs and Oprah clamoring to read my words, best seller lists. Hollywood itching to convert my manuscript into film. Would be parents, visualize their unborn as the next Einstein, or Payton Manning, or Bill Gates, future president, or feel free to insert hero or heroine of your choice. No writer sees his book as just another rejection letter and no parent sees his child as a crack addict.
Birth - Reality sets in when that great idea hits the paper in the form of words sentences and paragraphs. Or when you have to slip out of a nice warm bed to comfort a crying baby at three in the morning. Then you realize that some of the stuff in your head just doesn't work in print. You star at your first couple of pages and say this is crap. The stench makes you gag like a first time dad changing a dirty diaper. Oh, but there are those moments. That one great metaphor you come up with, or that exciting new dimension to one of your characters. It's kind of like that first time your child reaches up of their own will and touches your face. You realize, Hey I created this and the cockles of your heart turn all warm and fuzzy. What is a cockle anyway?
Terrible Two's - Okay, so a manuscript can't throw itself on the floor kicking and screaming. It can't yell no and kick you in the shin. But a novel in the beginning stages of life can be unruly just the same. Characters that do not develop the way you envisioned. Secondary characters who develop too well and threaten to override their supposed stronger and more interesting rivals, YOUR PROTAGONISTS. Plots can suddenly wither and stop growing. Complications arise that make your entire plot implausible or just ridiculous. Like a young child testing the boundaries this first rough draft stage is a writers test to see if they remain focused and take a story from beginning to end.
Going to School - Potty training is over. You've laid the groundwork for you baby but now it's time to send them out in the world. Kindergarten or critique group. First grade or a contest entry. Is it any harder to have somebody say I hate your heroine and the plot doesn't make sense, than it is to hear your child bit little Timmy Smith, or I had to send him to time out because he refused to sit down and listen? But just as you child needs the attention and guidance of classroom so does your novel. That is not to say you want a teacher or to raise your child or someone else to write your novel, but sometimes it takes that objective unbiased person to take a look and say this needs to be changed.
Graduation - I haven't gotten this far with my own children as they are still young, but I can imagine how proud I'll feel when it does happen. I have experienced that surge of pride of finishing a novel. Three as a matter of fact. It is quite a n accomplishment to hoist that four hundred page stack of paper after it has gone through my critique group and half a dozen readers, and say I did this . I finished a novel. That is when it is time to send it out in the world on its own via query letters to agents.
I'm Only Guessing - Just as my children have not reached the graduation stage yet my novels have not progressed beyond the solicitation stage. But I correlate getting an agent with being accepted into a college. Sure there are the Ivy League of literary agents and then there the community junior college ranks of agents. I'd stay away from the online technical and vocational agents since they are likely to charge you fees for things such as editing and what not. Then I'd associate an editor as grad school and so forth. I think you get my idea. So you send your little charge out in the world and if you are talented, lucky, and persistent it is accepted, everyone loves the little guy and before you know you're grandparent. Yes, that truly is how a sequel is born.