Thursday, June 18, 2009

FAQs: Has your life changed since becoming an author?


Today another writer asked me, "Has your life changed since becoming a published author?"

My answer: Oh, yes.

I go to bookstores and libraries about as often as I used to (once a week or so), but now I usually look for my book on the shelf.
If they have it I offer to sign it.
If they don't, I show them my copy and give them the elevator pitch: explain how it's often compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid (a book almost everyone knows), and how it appeals to both reluctant and avid readers, boys and girls alike. Usually they say they'll check it out online.

I travel more now -- visited 23 schools in March alone. I have stayed in very nice hotels I couldn't have otherwise managed. Hunted for Petoskey stones, learned more about the Underground Railroad, flew my family to Manhattan. I love mixing travel, art, books and kids. There's nothing better.

I used to wonder if I'd ever find where I fit into the big publishing world.
Now I have a better idea of my strengths and weaknesses.

I used to wonder when I will be financially solvent, when I will pay my bills without worry, when I will be able to buy whatever I want, within reason.
Now I know... it'll be a while.

I used to wonder what it would be like to do author presentations in big, fancy libraries with famous names on them, to compare books with famous authors and illustrators, to walk into a bookstore unnoticed and spy on a person buying my book off the shelf.
Now I know. It's fabulous. It's amazingly wonderful. It's better than I thought it would be.

I used to marvel at how Real Authors put together word after word, sentence after sentence, metaphor after brainstorm, on and on, to a completed book and a sequel and a series. I thought they were brilliant -- that they had a magic muse that spoke into their pens and typewriters.
Now I know:
It's with thoughtfulness, hard work, B.I.C. (body in chair, I tell kids at my school events), writing when your brain won't produce anything great, pushing yourself through rejection, through fallow times, through melancholy and depression, through anxiety and panic, through uncreative lulls.
It's with faith that when it's finished, the book will be worth reading, even though there are many times before then that it seems impossible.

I used to think that when I got published my insecurities would end.
Now I know they merely shifted. I still worry about whether the next book will sell. I still write down every idea for a new book, scrabbling to get it down before it escapes me, and I wonder if it'll ever see real, typeset words on real paper between real paper-over-board covers.

Once in exasperation my agent said, in a crowd, "Yes, Ruth, you're my favorite." I felt mortified -- flashback to my childhood: were the others going to beat me up for garnering probably-temporary favor? -- and I felt embarrassed -- of course she was being facetious, wasn't I perceptive enough to pick up on that? -- and I felt exhilarated -- maybe she really meant it, just a little!
I guess I haven't grown much since I pushed my brothers and sisters out of the way so I could have alone time (alone nanoseconds) with Mom.

I used to think learning was a curve, starting low, climbing, then falling, with a finite end. Now I see that it never ends -- and in fact the amount of stuff to learn is an ever-growing mountain.
The more I know about writing and illustration and books, the more I want to know about writing and illustration and books -- and the more I realize I don't know.

My editor said a few years ago that we want Ellie McDoodle to steadily climb the charts, not to shoot to the top right away.
I didn't understand why, then.
Now I do.
Each stage of this publishing life has meant an adjustment for me. I don't know how I would have handled it if it had happened big and quick.
I'd sure like to find out how I will handle it, when Ellie gets to the top. :)
(meaning, I hope it gets there!)
I love where it's at right now, too.

Are you a writer? Keep at it. B.I.C. It's worth the effort and the pain.

4 comments:

Lori Van Hoesen said...

Thank you.

Ann Finkelstein said...

Ruth:
This is a lovely post. I needed the inspiration.

roz said...

Thanks for this post. =o)

innercontent said...

This is a great blog, glad I found it :)