I’m Writing a Book!
I have always wanted to be a writer, long before I thought about going into science. I have a stack of journals going back to when I was nine-years-old, wire-bound notebooks with frayed covers. They are each carefully titled: My Writing: Volume 4, Written and Illustrated by Alice Sawyer Green. The writing inside is rich with details of a childhood, tedious as they are: school cancelled for snow, play practice, baking cookies, skating in sneakers on our frozen creek, and a record of state license plates spotted on road trips. But it is there, documented. I’ve been doing this for a long time. And yet, I can’t bring myself to say that I’m a writer.
When I was a senior in high school, I started learning the violin in a group class. Those first few scales played on the violin are as awkward as a nine-year-old’s writing. They are hesitant and careful and yet somehow so loud. It’s impossible to be subtle when you’re learning to play a new instrument. You have to screw up repeatedly before the notes become music.
I loved playing the violin, though. I worked hard at it, practicing for at least an hour per day, and not because anyone told me I had to but simply because I wanted to be better. But still, I never would have called myself a violinist. Or a musician. And indeed, with that attitude, I never would be a violinist. In college, I went through phases of playing through the simple tunes I learned in high school, but I never took lessons again. I stopped learning.
Looking back, I was scared of all the loud, off-key screeching that lay between being a beginner and becoming competent in music. And it was impossible for me to not compare myself to the other musicians at my school. It seemed that they had all been playing for at least a decade, and the skill they had acquired through all those years of practice seemed unreachable to me. Now that I’ve been alive for a few of them, I realize that a decade isn’t really that long. Time is ticking away on the next one. In the end, I’m not (yet) a violinist not because I didn’t start at a young enough age, but because I stopped playing the violin.
If I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and I’ve been writing down my stories since I was a little girl, what is stopping me? Is it the knowledge that any chance of being good at writing will require countless hours and years of work? Is it the certainty that along the way I will produce bad writing? Is it the fear that I might not ever be very good at it?
My two-year-old Cee would never learn to dress herself if she had that kind of attitude. And we’d miss out on all the maddening and enlightening moments in which she insists on trying to put her shirt on upside down or two legs in one pant leg.
So. Deep breath. Here we go. In this decade, I will become a writer. I’ll probably be playing off-key without knowing it, and I might walk out in public with my pants on backwards once or twice. But how else will I learn?
I signed a book contract with Johns Hopkins Press last month. Over the next year, I’ll be writing a book about science and parenting. It is my dream and my nightmare all rolled into one. It is a dream to work on a huge fascinating project, to have a very good excuse to read stacks of papers and to talk with scientists, doctors, and parents about some of the most difficult and interesting questions facing today’s parents. It is a dream to have someone tell me that yes, this is a good idea and that yes, you are the right person to write this book. And I figure that if I want to be a writer, then what better way to establish a writing habit and to practice it every day than to have a huge looming deadline?
The nightmare part is that tackling anything this hard brings out my voices of self-doubt, the ones that remind me that I’m not a writer and that probably nobody will read my book. But really, how often do you wake up from a bad dream and let it change what you do that day? Instead, I’m trying to reflect on the self-doubt: “It’s interesting to see you here, self-doubt, but I have writing to do.”
My book is about the first year of parenting. It covers some of the most controversial and talked-about parenting topics, with chapters on childbirth, attachment, feeding, sleep, vaccines, and development. The voice of the book is my own: a mother who also happens to be trained as a scientist, not with expert knowledge but with the ability to wade through scientific literature. My goal is to share the scientific background on these topics in an accessible and open-minded way, complete with discussions of the limitations of the science. As a parent, I have found that having this information is liberating. To know the science – to know where it is helpful and where it is not helpful – this frees us from the passionate discourse that is so often the source of judgment and guilt and fuel for the so-called mommy wars.
I want this book to be full of science but also rich with stories. I have gained so much perspective on parenting through this blog, for the most part because you have graciously shared your stories here. To any new parent, there is value in hearing that others have struggled and that they have also found solutions – and not all the same ones, either. The book will include some of my stories, but I hope that it will include many of yours as well, if you are willing to share them. (I will always ask. Nothing you write in the comments here will show up in the book unless I have your permission.) As I research and write, I’ll be discussing my progress on the blog, and I will always be grateful for your input.
This decade, I will be a writer, even though I feel that I’ve just begun to write. Picking up the violin again? I’m afraid that will have to remain on the back burner for the next year or so.
Here’s your first chance to help me out with my book: With so many parenting books out there, what books did you read and find helpful during your first year of parenting? Now, perhaps with a little more experience under your belt, what do you wish those books had told you but didn’t? What do you think I should know about my target audience (you!) as I begin to write?
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