Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
After Page One: The Journey

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A guest post to motivate, encourage, and inspire
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Counting the Days

 

I was counting weeks. The pregnancy, my third, was in the last swelling stages; the novel, my third, also in what seemed to be that final closing stage. I was determined to finish the book, at least a draft, before giving birth. I worked as though I were on the brink of an abyss. If I didn’t finish it before, I thought there would be no after.

I’d done it twice before. The baby and the book. We joked when I sold my first novel in my first trimester of my first pregnancy, and again, when I completed the revisions while on bed rest for weeks due to placental separation. The metaphors were obvious – I was gestating the baby and the book. The baby was delivered early, the book was not. I awoke from a general anesthesia emergency C-section, and one of the first things I thought of was the manuscript which I’d failed to send to my editor before giving birth.  The second book, I’d managed to get off to my editor a few weeks before giving birth. Four years between books, we joked, four years between kids. Once again, I was due.

In the rest of my life too, I was madly productive, creating impossible lists of "organize closets," "pull out old baby clothes," "paint kitchen," and, as though it were a task that could be as readily completed: "finish novel." I wrote feverishly, inspired by the vision of a real maternity leave in which nothing of my fictional world pulled at me, in which sentences and characters did not compete for my attention. The day before my scheduled C section, I sent a draft to my agent and declared myself done. Done!

But inside, I knew it wasn’t really done. No amount of willing it to be so, no amount of effort, could hurry the creation of a fictional world. This was not a completion but a pause. Later that night, unable to sleep because of anxiety about all that lay ahead, I wrote myself a letter, titled “to me on the other side.” In it, I reminded myself of where I had been with the book and what I was hoping it might still become, feeling as though I were sending it to a version of myself who I did not yet know.

A few weeks after my daughter was born, I came back to the unfinished book slowly, looking over the pages as though they’d been written by someone else. I read and reread the letter I’d written to myself as though it were my sole guidebook to a foreign land I’d arrived in unprepared. There were days, many of them, when I could not corral my thoughts, those hazy post-partum days and weeks when I did not even come close to writing.

Then, and now too, there are so many days when writing takes its place at the back of a long line -- when there is no choice but to live in a dangling state, of thoughts left unfinished, sentences undone, characters waiting, figures half blown, waiting to take their full, firm shape. There was no day in which I had worked enough, no day in which I felt the satisfaction of completion. Every day, I felt coated in a sense of undoneness.

And yet, to be a novelist is to live with the undoneness. It requires you to forge inside yourself an unshakable patience. Every day, I tell myself to quiet the noise, to find a small clearing in my head, and to do one small piece. As though I were working a million-piece puzzle. As though I were a craftsman affixing one tiny tile to a massive mosaic.

Those "one things" slowly add up. In the years since I thought I was done, the book has grown, changed in directions I could not have predicted, amid immense feelings of frustration and discovery, loss and recognition. That little girl who was born in my undone state just turned six -- I was further from done with this book than I’d realized. There was no choice but to go back and continue to add one small piece after another. As a writer and as a mother, I’ve become acutely aware of the slow accumulation of words and of days.

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Tova is giving away one copy of Visible City. Read the entry details here; deadline is March 12th.

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Join our After Page One series.  We’re looking for 300 to 500-word guest posts that motivate, inspire, and encourage other mama-writers, and we’d love to feature YOUR thoughts about getting started, getting back to a writing project, integrating writing with motherhood, reading, or having a positive attitude.   The list is endless, but here are some questions that might help you get started. We’ll publish a short bio so readers can learn more about you and your projects.


Tova Mirvis is the author of three novels: Visible City, The Outside World, and The Ladies Auxiliary, which was a national bestseller. Her essays have appeared in various anthologies and newspapers including The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe Magazine, Commentary, Good Housekeeping, and Poets and Writers, and her fiction has been broadcast on National Public Radio. She has been a Scholar in Residence at the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, and Visiting Scholar at The Brandeis Women’s Studies Research Center. She lives in Newton, MA with her three children.


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