In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou writes, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” As difficult as it is to get a story out of the mind and fully developed on the page, it can feel even worse to keep that story locked inside. Like a baby waiting to be born, a story waiting to be told won’t let you forget it’s there.
Being a book coach has helped me to appreciate exactly how much work is involved in writing, revising, publishing and marketing a book. It’s incredibly time-consuming (leaving you with less time for anything else) and emotionally taxing. You have to take risks, confront your fears, deal with discomfort, and battle with self-doubt.
Though it was many years ago, I still remember how it felt to be in the late stages of labor with my youngest child. I had limited access to pain medications because I’d opted for a natural home birth, and my midwife was coaxing me to get on the birthing stool so I could push more effectively.
I curled into myself and shook my head back and forth, muttering “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t.” Birthing my child, which had seemed like a reasonable and obvious thing to do only hours before, felt absolutely impossible now. It didn’t matter that I was already an experienced mother, having given birth to two other children prior to this. Maybe I had forgotten what those births had been like, or maybe it was because this time I was at home and not in a hospital. Whatever the reason, this time felt too hard, too painful, too damn overwhelming. I was scared and hurting and fighting what, deep down, I knew had to happen.
My midwife wasn’t persuaded by my refusal to proceed. She’d attended hundreds of births, and a laboring mother’s fear and mounting panic were nothing new to her. Her solution was a tough love approach. She planted herself in front of me, gently took my face in her hands, and said, “Look at me. Look. At. Me.” Her voice was firm but not harsh. I went from looking for an exit to looking into her eyes and willing myself to follow her lead.
“You can do this,” she said. “Just breathe.” I did as she instructed and was able to calm down slightly. She helped me move to the birthing stool, then focused my attention on the baby’s head, which was already crowning. I hadn’t realized how close I was to holding my child in my arms. All I needed was one more push.
A few minutes later, I gave birth to a healthy, nine-and-a-half pound baby boy, my first and only son. I wept with relief and joy. Though my midwife gave me all the credit for a successful delivery, I felt I could not have done it without her.
No wonder writers refer to their manuscripts as their “babies.” As a coach, I sometimes feel like a midwife, coaxing a writer to stay on track, offering “tough love” feedback and encouragement as needed.
If you’ve ever wondered why anyone would put themselves through so much pain and suffering just to tell a story, here’s one possible explanation: when you’ve finished with all that hard work, and you’re finally holding your creation in your arms, there’s no better feeling in the world.