Saturday, May 7, 2011

It Only Took 13 Years

by Laura Alden
Agatha Award nominee, Best First Novel

After almost 13 years of writing, I’m now a published writer. An author. Hard to believe, but true. Which means that, to some people, after 13 years of spending much of my free time writing and reading about writing, and studying other writers and kinda-but-not-really telling friends and family that I was working on manuscripts, I’m suddenly an authority on All Things Writing.

Hah. As if. Some days I think I know less than I did ten years ago.

People ask me about e-books and sales figures and what the market is for memoirs and what’s the best way to sell a non-fiction manuscript? They ask me about selling poetry and children’s books and how do I think a novel about a young boy who learns he was adopted by a family of vampires would sell?

Um, no clue. Honest. I really have no idea.

“But you’ve written a book,” they say, looking at me sideways, letting their words rise at the end of the sentence, adding just a dash of doubt.

Sorry, I tell them. Wish I could help you, but I really don’t know. I just don’t know that much about writing.

And I don’t. How can I? See, for me the hardest thing about writing is knowing if what I’ve scribbled down is any good. If I don’t even know that, how can I pretend to know anything about writing?

When I’m writing, I have no idea if any of it is worth keeping. Even when I’m rereading, I really don’t know if it’s crap or if it’s decent. The really weird thing is that sometimes, on rereads, any given scene will scan like a champ. (Yes! I can write! I’m not a complete imposter!) A week later I’ll read the same scene and want to delete the whole thing for being such an insipid and pointless piece
of drivel.

My only comfort is that this feeling of I-have-no-clue-what-I’m-doing seems to run rampant in authors, even very successful ones. (Yes! I am not alone!) Of course, this comfort is completely overshadowed by the hollow realization that very successful authors can feel that they have no clue what they’re doing.

Uh-oh. If they feel that way, what chance do I have of getting a clue?

Well, none, actually.

But you know what? I don’t care. I love to write. I love to create stories and people and places. If I can keep on doing that, I can live with muddling my way through this business of writing, putzing along, doing my best. And with any luck, every once in awhile, I’ll be able to make someone smile, way deep down inside. If I can do that…well, then everything turned out just fine.

Laura Alden grew up in Michigan and graduated from Eastern Michigan University in the 80’s with a (mostly unused) Bachelor of Science degree in geology. Currently, Laura and her husband share their house with two very strange cats. When Laura isn’t writing her next book, she’s working at her day job, reading, singing in her church choir, or doing some variety of skiing. Laura’s debut novel, Murder at the PTA was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Her second book, Foul Play at the PTA, will be released in July.


Paul said...

Congratulations on the culmination of your 13 years of effort. Your post is one of the most refreshing I've seen about the process of writing. We are all authorities on our own work, but beyond that, I think we need to be careful. Still, I'd listen to your advice a lot more readily that to someone who claims to know what they're talking about.

Thank you!

Sheila Connolly said...

Hi, Laura--nice to see you at Malice!

Even after you've arrived at the pinnacle of success (published!), you'll find they keep changing the rules on you. Figure out where ebooks fit. Learn to use social media. Oh, and you have to do all your own promotion and your publisher expects you to sell through in fifteen minutes.

But I'm not complaining. You meet such nice people up here, and it really is fun. So be happy to share what you know.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

I'm sometimes amazed at how much I know about publishing (including the fact that at the moment, nobody in publishing knows anything) after eight years in Sisters in Crime, MWA, Guppies etc, not to mention "walking the walk" with my own work. And yep, I still go through those pendulum swings (from "it's brilliant" to "it sucks" and back again)--and find some comfort in hearing bestselling authors admit it's true for them too.

Victoria said...

But like you pointed out, it is a comfort to know that thoroughly experienced writers go through the same stuff. I think, though, that the more experienced we get, the more we expect of ourselves, so though we know a whole lot more, we still FEEL like we know nothing!

It's a good thing... keeps us humble and reaching for more knowledge.

Julie Godfrey Miller said...

Laura, I loved Murder at the PTA, so I'm glad you persevered. I'm sure you know a lot more about publishing than all of us yet-to-be published authors. You have a lot to be proud of.

Laura Alden said...

Paul, you're very welcome :)

Sheila & Liz, it was great to finally meet both of you in person last weekend!

And Victoria, you're exactly right about the higher expectations thing. I hadn't looked at it like that. Interesting ... thanks for the new viewpoint.

Julie, I'm so happy you enjoyed the book!

Dru said...

It was nice meeting you at Malice. It's always great to put an author's name and picture with their real life personality.

I'm glad you keep pushing and I can't wait for the second book in the series.

jenny milchman said...

Congratulations on reaching this pinnacle, Laura! (And then others the Agatha nomination...) Believe me when I say, I really feel ya, and I bet you're more of an expert than you think you are--although I maybe not when it comes to non-fiction, tweeting, and all things vampire :)

I hope if you get a chance you will check out my blog, because getting pubbed after 13 years sounds like a Made It Moment to top all Made It Moments, and I would love to feature you!

Laura Alden said...

Dru, it was wonderful to meet you! I wish we'd had a chance to sit down for a nice long chat. Maybe next time :)

Jenny, what a sweet blog -- I can't believe I've never come across it. How about if I contact you next week about a guest post?

Leslie Budewitz said...

Laura, Murder at the PTA was a delightful debut -- and I predict that just like Beth, you'll come to trust your instincts more and more with each new step on your writer's path!

Sandra Parshall said...

Laura, it was great to finally meet you and have a chance to thank you in person for your volunteer work for Sisters in Crime. You'd looked pretty good up there on the stage during the Best First Novel nominees' panel. I hope we'll see you at many more events in the future.

Kaye George said...

What an eloquent expression of what every writer feels, Laura! This piece is not drivel. :)

Peg Herring said...

Meeting other authors is one of the best ways to overcome that "I bet I can't really write at all" feeling, and I'm happy to say that Laura has helped me through it more than once. It's an art to be able to critique without destroying, and I'm glad we stumbled into each other on the road to becoming published authors.

Sasscer Hill said...

Hi, Laura. Wonderful to meet you at Malice. I agree with what you said about not knowing if it's good or not good as you stare at your printed out pages.

Evanovich and Grafton were less eloquent. At conferences I've heard them both say they get so nervous about whether they can do it or not, the almost throw up!

Sasscer Hill

Margaret Koch said...

Well said, fellow Koch. I'm amazed at how a passage that seems like tripe one day can read like inspiration personified the next. But I'm so happy for you...and, I offer you the preferred mode of support -- I bought your book.

Chris Eboch said...

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I had published 12 books, and a woman said, "Why aren't you in Beverly Hills?"

Um, besides the fact that I wouldn't *want* to live in Beverly Hills, 12 books in 12 years... with average advances of $6000-$9000...

No. We do not immediately become rich and famous just because we have a book published (or a dozen).

Most people seem to have no idea of what it means to be a writer.
That's why it's so enjoyable to hang out with other writers, who get it!

Julia Buckley said...

Ditto on the "Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's crap" feeling. We should start a club. :)

Cindy Sample said...

HI Laura. I always enjoy learning about new author's journeys and MURDER AT THE PTA was well worth the wait. Your fans thank you for hanging in there. The best part of being a published author, new for me as well, is meeting so many aspiring writers. If nothing else at least I can inspire them to continue with their own efforts. You're never too old to follow your dreams!

Sally Carpenter said...

Congrats on your book! It only took 11 years for me to finally publish a book! Perserverance pays off for those willing to slough through the down times. Keep writing!

Clare Havens said...

Congratulations! A real labor of love!