My book is not my baby — but the two do have a lot in common

For me, publishing a book isn't the same as giving birth. It's more like sending my child to preschool

Published May 21, 2024 9:00AM (EDT)

Multi-tasking mum (Getty Images/Thanasis Zovoilis)
Multi-tasking mum (Getty Images/Thanasis Zovoilis)

I remember in my first year of motherhood the way I felt my world grow smaller and more intimate, the pace of my life grow slower and more focused. When my husband would come home from coaching and consulting meetings, networking events, and the workshops he facilitated, he would find me ensconced in the tiny world of our home, wrapped up in the milky sweetness of the baby. The private, domestic realm became my primary realm during those early months of motherhood, when I would walk around and around our small apartment with my baby wrapped to my chest, murmuring “shh, shh,” over and over again, like a mantra, or a prayer. Her heart beating against my heart, recreating womb-like conditions on the outside.

In the same sun-drenched week in August, that baby, my elder daughter, started preschool and I signed a publishing contract for my debut novel, "California Dreaming." Two years after that, my younger daughter has started at that same preschool, and "California Dreaming" is mere days from being released.

Like those early months of motherhood, writing is an intensely private, solitary act. For me, to write necessitates going inward, it requires shutting out the outside world and external stimuli for the sake of being able to listen fully. My writing process takes inspiration from Anne Lamott’s practice of the one-inch picture frame. All through my daughters’ early years, I would carve out pockets of time — while they napped, or after bedtime, or when they were at the playground — to write. My pace of writing my novel was complementary to the pace of motherhood, the pace of attending to a baby and then a toddler. Each day I wrote just 250 words, filling my one-inch frame.

I am not the first to notice the connection between writing and parenting, but while many have compared publishing a book to giving birth, for me there is an even more apt comparison. Both child and book lived in and then with me for many years after their births. For me, publishing a book feels most parallel to sending my child to preschool for the first time, for it is in both these acts that that which once lived solely inside the private, domestic realm, and within only a few primary relationships, now enters the public sphere.

The distinction between the public and private realms, the separation between domestic and political spheres, has long been deeply intertwined with the preservation of a capitalistic society. Mothering so often happens outside of the public sphere, outside of the public gaze, and much has been written about the hidden, unpaid labor of caretaking. In our society, there is a hiddenness inherent in the domestic realm and a hiddenness to the lives and experiences of women.

Like those early months of motherhood, writing is an intensely private, solitary act.

Perhaps the novel form itself could be considered a kind of public square, a forum in which human relationships, motivations, self-discovery, and journeying gets played out again and again through different lenses, and under different gazes. Historically, even in the context of the novel, significant female life experiences — childbirth and abortion, breastfeeding and postpartum depression — have not been explored nearly as deeply as those life experiences of typical male self-development.

In my writing, I am drawn to exploring the inner lives of women, especially during moments of significant life transitions. In "California Dreaming," the main character is Elena, who, over the course of the novel, grows from a young, idealistic early 20-something, into a 30-year-old woman who reckons with the decisions she has made, the values she holds and the stories she has inherited. It is a bildungsroman, a story form that traces the general and spiritual coming-of-age process, and it is told in the first-person point of view, granting Elena herself the narrative voice to describe her journey. There is an intimacy in using the first-person, a way of drawing near to the narrator that allows for greater play and insight into the narrator’s own development, her way of viewing the world, her inner life.

In an interview with Terry Gross in 1985, the writer Grace Paley reflected, “When you write, you illuminate what’s hidden, and that’s a political act.” For many years, my primary world has been the private, domestic, intimate world of mothering little children and writing and rewriting and editing a novel. A hidden world. And now, gradually, there are bridges between the private and public realms, and that which has been hidden is becoming illuminated, revealed.

In the months after giving birth, I felt the deep truth of the fact that I was not fully separate from my children. And yet, as they have grown, we have each gone through periods of differentiation, of reasserting the boundaries of self. My children no longer exist primarily in a carrier or in my arms; they are no longer solely dyadic extensions of me. They go to school, they have thoughts and experiences and dreams and feelings and wishes that I am not witness to, and that they navigate with peers and teachers and the many other people who populate their life. They have relationships that are their own.

So, too, with my novel. For many years I worked in private tandem with the novel, with my own creative process. In the months since I signed my book deal, however, I have begun to experience the way my creative process—a process of unfolding, refining, listening, and responding—is being transmuted into an object, into something that will go out into the world, into the public sphere, and there take on a life of its own. We are differentiating, my book and I, and soon it will be in relationship with others, with readers who will encounter it as themselves, and form judgments, connections, and opinions about it that are distinct from my own.

Motherhood’s value has often been located in the fact that the children we are mothering will eventually become citizens of the larger society. Similarly, a book on its publishing journey—as I have newfound understanding and appreciation for—ultimately becomes a commodity. The publishing industry measures a book’s success in sales, and even my chance at publishing another book in the future may rest on the sales numbers of my first. In these months of preparing for my book’s launch, of asking bookstores and libraries to stock my book, and friends and family to pre-order, I have been struck by my own doubts of its inherent worth. To ask people to buy it, to spend money on it, has necessarily sent me diving into questions of its value: Will this book change your life? Must it be read? Will you like it? I don’t know.

For many years, my primary world has been the private, domestic, intimate world of mothering little children and writing and rewriting and editing a novel. A hidden world.

Here’s what I do know: it had to be written. It called to me again and again during the writing process itself, that private, intimate birthing and caring for of this idea, these characters, this story, this particular viewpoint on the whole messy endeavor that we call life, and I couldn’t not write it.

In many ways, this is the same way I feel toward mothering my children. I don’t know who they will become, or what they will or will not contribute to society. I mother them in this moment, now, because they are here, in front of me, whole and perfect and messy and complete human beings just as they are. I attend to them because I must, because I am called to with my whole self.

It can seem at times that worth and value exist exclusively in the public sphere, in the shared collective, in the process of being witnessed and incorporated into the greater whole. But when this greater whole is one whose meaning rests in capital, then worth and value become markers for how much something contributes to capital: the book that sells well, or the child who grows up to be a “productive” member of society—a worker, a voter, a consumer.

It is not that I am against a shared, collective space, not that I wish for more individualized and individualistic paths toward meaning — far from it. However, in the context of a public sphere that primarily operates in terms of product, output and money, the private realm can sometimes seem a place of refuge, a place where creative process and attentive mothering can actually coexist in harmony, for the sake of attention itself, for the sake of love—and not future production or consumption.

Yet, I wonder whether that coexistence can only occur out of the public gaze, in a hidden domain, or if it would be possible for it to thrive in the public sphere. What kind of relationships could we have, the witnessers and the witnessed, in which we could write and mother from a place of intimate curiosity, where we could do so in a way that feels held by others, by community, where it is neither solely a solitary, lonely endeavor, nor one whose worth is measured in a balance sheet?

Perhaps it is only in a novel where we can fully explore that possibility.

By Noa Silver

Noa Silver was born in Jerusalem and raised between Scotland and Maine. Her debut novel "California Dreaming" is due out in May.

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