Being single, I'm no expert when it comes to child birth. And I'm certainly not comparing the writing of a novel to the amount of pain that a woman goes through in that situation. Not only would that be insensitive - it would also be dangerous. I don't want a crowd of angry women on my back.
However, the principle applies: know what you're in for before you begin. A couple of times now, I've read the work of another beginning author and thought: "They didn't revise. They didn't edit." In many cases, the author in question is thinking: "Why aren't I getting published?" or "Why isn't my publisher giving my work all the attention it deserves?" or "Why won't a literary agent read this?" Once I was at a seminar on publishing, and someone stood up at the back of the room and said loudly and sarcastically:
"I sent my book to a publisher, and they sent it right back, saying it wasn't the type of book they were looking for. I mean, come on. A book is a book."
Huh? This is not the kind of attitude authors should have. Here's a few things authors should expect when producing a novel.
1. Expect to struggle to finish writing the first draft.
People approach the writing of a book with euphoria, thinking they have the world's greatest idea. They envisage undying enthusiasm, but once they get a third of the way in, they begin to falter. This is very common. In your mind, you can see where you want the story to go. But it takes longer to write the idea than it takes to conceive it. Expect the struggle. Prepare for it mentally. Push through anyway.
2. Expect people to hate your first draft.
The majority of well-read people out there, if they're honest, are not going to like your first draft. Don't make a habit of sending this one to agents or publishers. Send it to beta readers, so that you can improve it. Expect that it's going to be awful. This is normally the work that never sees the light of day in the professional world. I think of my first draft as a junk heap: great, I made a really big pile. However, it's all junk; it has no shape and no meaning yet. I must fashion it into a work of art. But at least I have the materials. You can rejoice in that.
3. Expect a possible rewrite.
So many people finish their first draft and say: "I've finished my book!"
Wrong. You have finished your first draft. You can edit it to death now, or - if it looks like that is going to be more work than rewriting - you can pen the second draft. Second drafts seldom have to be written from scratch. You can recycle old scenes, so it's less work than writing the first draft. But you will be rewriting most of the book. Your book has to make sense. The characters have to be consistent. The plot must be a driving one. The language must be understandable and of the highest quality. This does not happen in a first write.
That is simply impossible.
4. Expect editing.
I find this unbelievable: an author gets a contract for book not yet finished. The author finishes the book a week before the deadline. The author sends the book in. What? You are not going to sell like this. A publisher cannot fix everything. The majority of the editing is your work. Yes, yours. I have a contract for four books. All of them are written. Some of them have been written five times over. All of them have been edited, and I'm still fine tuning. I want my books to be the best they can be before my publisher sees them. That way, my publisher will be good to me - and, once the editor has worked with it, it will be unbelievably good. It will hit the market glittering. It will have a better chance of being read, but whether it sells or not, I will know I've done my best. I've pleased the hardest person to please - myself.
I haven't covered the editing that a publisher will do or the numerous times that you'll think: "I'll never be finished with this book." But these are four basic things you must expect when writing. You must set your mind and understand what you're in for. Don't say you're finished till the book's in print. Writing a draft does not make you an author. But working on it over and over goes a fair way towards earning you the title.