Tuesday, February 27, 2007


By Amy

I am not yet an author. It’s true I have writing credits; my essays have appeared in national newspapers, on NPR, I even had a story on This American Life last fall. That was a good day. But it’s not enough.

This week Tess Gerritsen blogged about posts she read on a message board. Some of the comments about genre writing so enraged her, she felt like she wanted to “get out a gun and start shooting people.” Tess Gerritsen is a New York Times bestselling author several times over. Her books, multiple titles even, can be found in nearly every bookstore, airport, and convenience store around the world. She’s arrived! Tess shouldn’t be angst-ridden about a few offhand comments, or even if her next book does well, but, my goodness, reading her blog, it’s clear she is. Her mega-success isn’t enough.

This past week, I was talking to a friend whose novel was recently published. If you’ve walked into your neighborhood bookstore, you’ve seen it. Her book is doing really well, both her agent and publisher are thrilled, and are eager for more. Still, she’s not quite satisfied. She checks her Amazon ranking many times a day (which author doesn't), wearing herself thin on book tour while trying to finish a second manuscript. Though she's pleased, her success is something she’s dreamed of for years – something we all dream of – isn’t quite enough.

Yesterday I was talking to another author. He’s nearing completion of his third novel, the first two will make you weep they’re so beautifully written. His reviews have been the kind a writer would frame and hang above his desk. He’s regarded as a darling in literary circles, well-liked by his peers, smart and intellectually thoughtful in ways that leave you wondering for months about something he said. So yesterday when I told him I was still revising my manuscript and feeling frustrated that I hadn’t hit the mark on the first round, he had another one of those profound moments. I can’t remember exactly what was said, just the import behind it. Perhaps we can all learn something from him, so to paraphrase:

Enjoy this time. Right now, there are no expectations of you. You are free to be as creative as you want, to take as much time as you need. There are no deadlines pressuring you to create. Your debut novel is your one best chance to make people sit up and take notice. It’s probably the most attention you’ll receive in your writing career, so make sure you get it right. After this, everyone, your agent, your editor, your reviewers will have expectations of you. So take your time and do what’s right for your book. Write the very best you can.

Wise words to be sure. I would take it one step further, however. Relax. Write the very best you can with each book. Take your time and avoid anyone else’s expectations. Have goals, but make sure they’re your own. Stay true to your story and to your self. Write for the pure joy it gives you.

Let that be enough – at least for today.


Therese said...

Amy, this is just the message I needed to start my day!

I read Tess's blog and have had the same reaction: why isn't her success enough to forestall the insecurity and angst?

What I do understand is that the pressure to repeat a success is as often self-imposed as it is brought on by the publishing world.

So to relax and trust the talents that led to one success is what the post-debut author must do...hard though it is!

Am keeping this in mind as I get to work...

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Therese, you appear grounded and, I've no doubt, in charge of your angst. Loved your post today.

Ghost Girl (aka, Mary Ann) said...

Thanks for this post, Amy. I look at what you've already done, and it boggles my mind that you don't consider yourself an author, yet. But, at the same time, I totally get that sentiment. I know what it is to struggle with confidence, and writing is such a personal endeavor. I worry that I will never be satisfied with my work.

But, I am revising what I really believe will be my debut novel, and I am taking my time to get it right. I hope!

Thanks for the inspiration and perspective.

Anonymous said...

GG,hopefully we'll continue to expand and learn as writers for the rest of our lives. That said, I don't know that there are many writers who are completely satisfied with a piece of work. If we persevere, I believe we'll eventually find some modicum of success -- however we choose define it.


Melissa Amateis said...

Wonderful, wonderful advice to relax and enjoy the process. I have wondered what it will be like to write once I sell and have those deadlines to worry about, plus the agent, editor, book reviewers, readers, etc., etc.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Melissa, from what I understand, the expectations vary according to genre. With literary fiction, an author is encouraged to take as much time as necessary, with commercial fiction, there is intense pressure to produce within one year or two year cycle.

The worst kind of pressure is the self-imposed variety. I'm my own worst enemy

Patry Francis said...

You are SO wise, Amy. There is a wonderful message here, as in all your posts, and perhaps even more in your calming presence.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Thank you, Patry. You were a hit last night at Grub Street South. Even the woman working the register (and my did your book fly off the shelves!) commented on how poised and interesting you were. I have much to learn from you.

jdroth said...

Hi. My name is J.D. I'm not in your writing group (obviously), but I'm in a writing group with Hannah's brother, Paul.

Over the past year, my focus has changed from writing for books to writing for the web. I've managed to develop a successful blog, and am making a modest income from it. But as my readership increases, as my blog becomes more successful, I find myself wrestling with some of the same issues you describe here.

I've been calling my own afflction "stagefright". Writer's block isn't quite correct -- I'm perfectly capable of writing -- but I don't know of any other term that applies. I begin to doubt myself, to second-guess my ideas. It's frustrating.

I love your admonition to "avoid anyone else's expectations". I need to heed this advice.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hey, J.D. (great name, btw). If you want to write something meaningful, you must first please yourself -- don't you think? I was just reading a profile on Backstory about Jon Clinch, author of Finn. Everyone was aghast that he would be so bold as to craft a story based on Twain's greatest work. But he turned down the external static and wrote a magnificent book. We should all be so brave -- and bold.


Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Hey, J.D.! Congratulations on the success of the blog. I find it hard to write one and a quarter times a week, with stagefright the perfect analogy, and am impressed with your consistency. Know that if others are reading, and they are in growing numbers, you are doing something right. As Amy said, trust yourself, and be brave and bold.


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