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The Creative Process – Like Baby, Like Book
by Deborah Greenspan
Babies and books: They don’t look the same; they don’t sound the same; and they sure don’t smell the same. (Although there are critics who might debate that.) Still, these two disparate entities have two things in common: They both embody the creative process and are the result of creative acts beginning in a moment of joy, and culminating in travail and pain.
Babies start out in a surge of joyful submission to the infinite. But turning that momentary joining into something real takes a long time. Inside the mother, during the creative process, the baby grows and changes moment by moment. First, it has a tail and flippers. Then it loses them and grows feet and hands. The creative process keeps baby in a constant state of flux until it finally begins to assume its finished shape. Over and over, through a biological process known as ontogeny recapitulates philogeny, DNA and environment “rewrite” the physical organism until it becomes a tiny human being. But now that this part of the creative process is complete, it has to get out into the world; it has to separate from its mother. In blood, sweat, and tears, the baby is born, and after that, there are months of feedings night and day, and nine months to a year before the child can walk independently and begin the creative process of growing up.
Books too start on wings of inspiration, but finishing one is a long, grueling creative process. First, you’re overwhelmed by the vision you have, and you scribble it down on paper as quickly as you can. Then you write it again, throw away half of it and start over. On the next read-through, you wish you’d never started. You think you must be crazy to imagine you can be a writer; it will never look like that vision you had at the start. But you rewrite it one more time, and then go over it again, every time finding more things to fix. It’s a never-ending job until that magical day when the whole thing is done, finished, beautifully defined: Your vision in the flesh. The creative process is complete. You type “The End.”
But is the completion of the book really the end? Or is it more like a new beginning?
If birth is the process of separating a baby from its mother, then publishing is the process of separating a book from its author. Many writers seem to think that once they hand the book over to the publisher, all the major work has been done. They wrote it; they poured their hearts and souls into it. They were the translator of inspiration into flesh. But when it gets into the publisher’s hands, it still has a long way to go: a new creative process has begun. Often the text has to be edited and polished, then “dressed up” in a style that complements the naked words. ISBNs, CIP#s, distribution, barcode, formatting, cover design, webpage, uploading, downloading, endless emails between publisher and author, all these stages have to be gone through. Sometimes, just like the tail and flippers of an embryo, parts of the embryonic book are discarded and begun again. A cover may be off the mark completely; the back cover copy may need rewriting. There may be computer glitches and communication difficulties and problems agreeing on what’s what. The creative process is a period of change, so all these changes go with the territory.
The point of this comparison is that publishing, like writing, like baby-making, like any creative process, is above all else, a way of perfecting something. It takes time. Writers don’t finish books in a day, mothers don’t rush the births of their babes, and publishers need time to do the job properly. Just as in everything else there are those who strive for excellence and those who push things out ready or not because that’s all the work the budget will bear. Publishers should be artists as well as business people, because they are responsible for the last creative process that will give the final polish to the book, the shine that attracts the eye of the audience. So when choosing a publisher, think about this: like writing, publishing is an art not just a business, and as artists, the creative process of publishers should be aiming for perfection every time.