Saturday, May 29, 2010

How To Be a Neurotic Professional Author

Today I thought I'd tackle a question a blog reader sent me back when I solicited questions. So I looked through them and decided that this was what I felt like talking about today. Because some of the questions are fairly specific to me, and this one is more general. Thanks to for the question

Is it hard to remember a time when you were a struggling writer, trying to find an agent/publisher? Does it seem like you've been doing this forever (so you're a pro) or do you still have anxieties and worries like you did in the beginning?

Do I feel like a pro? Absofreakalutely not. I talk about this with my critique partner Blood Bunny all the time -- someone will ask me for advice or want me on a panel at a conference and I will say, "But I am just a newbie in this business!" At first, I kept thinking that it was a milestone thing. That I would feel like a Real Author once I had my edits. Once I sold another book. Once I wrote another book. Once my book hit shelves. Once I got more positive reviews than negative. Once the second book came out. Or the third. Or once I hit the bestseller list. Once I sold the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth book . . . surely this would make me feel like I had some professional chops and would iron out insecurities and worries.

Um, no.

This may shock nobody else, but it turns out that the Maggie who lived on the bestseller list for over 30 weeks, sold eight books in over 30 countries, written over 75 short stories in two years, writes full-time, internationally tours, and otherwise has the bright and shiny professional life that I imagined as a kid . . . is exactly the same Maggie who was clutching a few dozen unpublished manuscripts to her chest and eyeballing agents and editors with an appraising expression.

I am every bit as eager, neurotic, optimistic, motivated, procrastinating, unsure, utterly sure, confident and naive as I was before. Sure, the things that make me excited or annoyed have different names now, but they are the same types of things. I can still be ecstatic by a particularly en pointe review by a muggle or nervous when I have 10,000 words of my novel written and I'm not precisely sure where I'm going next. I'm as excited about going to California as I was about going to Italy. I am as nervous about Linger coming out as I was for Shiver as I was for Ballad as I was for Lament.

Here's a great example of how neurosis lives on: when Scholastic first told me they were moving my release date and also my tour to the summer, so there'd be no school visits during my tour, the first thought I had was:

I have managed to offend some school so badly during my last school visit that they contacted Scholastic and SCHOLASTIC MOVED MY ENTIRE RELEASE DATE AND TOUR TO KEEP ME AWAY FROM TEENS! I FAIL!

Five minutes later I came to my senses, but it's worth pointing out that that was my first thought, not: yay, summer = swimming pools!

Same thing happens every time I write a book. There's a quote that I keep trying to find again -- the gist of it is that you never learn to write books, you only learn to write the book you're currently writing. And that really is how it is. Every book has that panicked ohmigosh-I-am-such-a-hack-this-book-will-never-see-the-light-of-day moment. Or two. Or fourteen. It doesn't matter how many finished books I have under my belt. I still know I'm going to have it on this book, and the next one, and the next one.

I think what it comes down to is that your sense of confidence and purpose has to come from within. If you're waiting for external markers to change you, you're in for a long wait. Actually, I'm thinking that if you do let external markers change your internal workings, you're in a bad place. I think that's when your head starts to swell and you become one of those obnoxious people who knows everything. I'd much rather think that it is I and only I who can influence my sense of self.

But it's something that I see in a lot of writers -- they keep looking to the outside world for verification. If they land a prestigious critique partner, it makes them more worthy. If they have an agent, they can be more confident. If they get a book deal, it's another notch. A bigger book deal, better notch. But guess what the problem with that is? Let's say your book sales tank and you are off the shelf in three months. You are absolutely destroyed, because all your worth and confidence was tied up in that.

I met my two critique partners, Tessa and Brenna, before they had deals or agents or book deals. And the thing that blew me away about them is that they attacked their writing like professionals. They both had a sense of purpose that came from within, not from external factors. Their confidence and insecurities were all very insular, and were unaffected by my critiques or rejections. I've got to tell you, that's a powerful thing. I would've had these two critiquing for me if they never landed a book deal, ever, because they are consummate writers long before they became Authors.

Anyway, so that was the long answer. The short answer is, yes. I am still the exact same person I was before all this hoopla went down. Hopeful, neurotic, confident, uncertain Maggie, all at the same time. And I think, now, that I like it that way. The day it all becomes second nature is the day that I head off for another career.

9 comments:

JSavant said...

Inspiring words. I don't really believe the doubt or insecurity ever goes away, no matter how "famous" an author becomes. If anything, the pressure to deliver becomes even MORE great. Any person who lets their creative results out into the world (whether it be books, art, songs, acting roles, etc.) must face the criticisms to come. That's just a part of the creative landscape.

Amelia Robinson said...

Very well put. :) I read this while thinking about all the reasons I'm not currently writing and it's kinda put me in my place, shall we say. I take this as a warning not to get too caught up in my ego.

Cheers!

-Amelia R.

Larissa said...

And that is why you are so awesome.

Solvang Sherrie said...

I LOVE this post. I'm feeling a bit neurotic and unsure right now. It's hard to keep the confidence up when I'm staring at another rejection. But I will bounce back. And I am SO looking forward to meeting you when you're out here this summer!

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thanks, fellow neurotic people! :D I am definitely looking forward to meeting you too, Sherrie!

I hope life can only get better said...

I love the distinction you make at the end between writers and authors. I write every day. And write and write and write. I know the chance of me being published are slim to none, but my friends love to read what i write and look foward to the next thing I let them read. And the countless other stories i just write for myself, it's okay. You are so real and that is what I love about you. No pretense, except me for who I am, love my writting for what it is! I am always unsure, I am so glad you posted this. You inspire me.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

@I hope . . . thank you. *blush*

Melissa said...

I am not a writer / author but I read your blog simply for the the insights and honesty you bring to it. Once again thank you for being you.

Maggie Stiefvater said...

Thank YOU, Melissa.

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