If You Don’t Get Published, Is Writing a Waste of Time?

by Ali on January 6, 2011

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Ali-Writing-AMphotoLike many photos on this site, this is with huge thanks to London lifestyle photographer Antonina Mamzenko.

If you’ve been reading Aliventures for … ooh, a couple of weeks … you’ll know that I finished a novel, Lycopolis, in 2011.

This novel represents hundreds of hours of work – possibly thousands. I put time into it. I put heart into it. I spent hours on scenes only to eventually cut them. I wrote and rewrote and rewrote until it was almost, almost the story I wanted to tell. (I had to let go of perfectionism in the end.)

I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written.

And now I’m trying to find an agent.

It’s tough. I’ve barely begun looking, and I’m already feeling discouraged. There are so many aspiring novelists – and my novel isn’t an obvious genre blockbuster. I know that agents typically get hundreds of manuscripts every year and may only take on one or two.

Last week, I was telling Paul how frustrated I felt. “What was the point in spending two years of my life on this novel if it never gets published?”

Why didn’t I just stick to what I’m already good at – writing blog posts and ebooks? That’d be a far better way to reach out to the world. My novel’s been read by about five people, with maybe another dozen reading short excerpts. My blog posts get read by thousands.

So…

Have I Just Wasted Two Years of My Life?

Maybe you’re a writer. You’ve got a project that’s important to you – perhaps something you’ve been working on for months or years. It might just be an idea which you’re afraid to start. It might be a novel tucked away in your bottom drawer which you’re afraid to send out, or an ebook which you have yet to launch.

You might not rate your chances of success very highly.

Maybe, like me, you find yourself thinking I’ve wasted my time.

Really?

Really?

When I started my MA, I was working on short stories. Neat little short stories, sometimes with a carefully-plotted twist, which I felt confident about. I’d even won a couple of small competitions, and had a story published in a national magazine.

I was pretty good at these stories. But they weren’t a challenge. They weren’t the reason for doing an MA.

I wanted to find my writing voice. I wanted to get up the courage to tackle a story that was close to my heart, a story that had bubbled away for a couple of years. I’d not started on it at all, beyond a few tentative jottings in a notebook. It was going to be a big novel, with complexities that I didn’t know how to tackle.

In my first few weeks at Goldsmiths, I began writing that novel. I tried different ways to write the story-within-the-story element until I found something which worked for me and my readers.

I kept going. For two years, I kept going, finishing a first draft, then a second, then – last November – a third.

It took time – hours of it. It took courage – more than I thought I had. I worked and worked and worked to pare away all the false avenues and woolly bits, to get the story right.

And then I emailed one agent, and felt disappointed that he didn’t email back.

“If it doesn’t get published, I’ve wasted my time. I’ve failed.”

Is This Failure?

What do you count as “failure”? For me, it all too often means not hitting some target that I’ve set, or not getting some external recognition – like a grade or a competition win.

Maybe, like me, you were used to getting straight As in school – the difference between success and failure seemed pretty clear. Or maybe you struggled academically – from childhood, you felt that you were a failure.

I’m starting to realise that failure isn’t really about not being up to some particular mark. Just as there are plenty of different definitions of success, there are different ways to look at failure.

When I went into that MA, I wanted to come out with a stronger writing voice. I fully believe I’ve done that. I saw my grades improve during the course, but more importantly, I could recognise the difference in my own writing.

Sure, I didn’t get it right first time. I reworked my assignments after feedback from fellow students and my tutors. I tried some things which just didn’t work. I showed work to agents, and they didn’t want to take me on.

But, really, failure would have been deciding that it was too much effort. Failure would have been giving up. Or sticking to the tried-and-tested short stories and refusing to let my writing develop.

What’s better – hitting easy goals every time, or stretching yourself further and further, learning and growing?

Effort Matters – More Than Results

I’ve been given so much. I’ve got a loving family who continue to support me in so many ways (not least through giving us a great place to live). I’ve had great teachers. Words come easily to me. I’ve been labelled “bright” since I was a kid, and I’ve always believed it, and I’ve had a lot of confidence (and occasionally a bit of arrogance) about my own intellectual ability.

And there’s part of me which takes that for granted. Which wants to sit back, take the easy route, settle for quick wins and safe paths.

But that’s not only a fast-track to stagnation … it’s taking those gifts I’ve been given and throwing them away.

Lycopolis is the best thing I’ve ever written. It took a lot of work – frankly, far more work than I was initially prepared to put in. But as I went further and further, wrote more and more, revised, struggled, dreamt – I found that I was growing. I had more courage, more strength, more determination.

I know it might never be published. I know that my chances of getting an agent are, frankly, pretty slim. There are so many brilliant books out there, so many potentially great debut novelists.

But I’m going to give it my best shot. I’m not going to shrink back because I’m scared – of getting it wrong, of wasting my time. Because the more I put into this, the more I’m going to learn. And this isn’t the only novel I’ll ever write. Worst-case scenario … I’m just practicing for the next one.

Despite a few control-freak tendencies, I know that there’s a lot which I simply can’t determine. I can’t predict which agents will love my novel and which ones will turn it down with barely a second glance. I can’t make anyone publish it.

I can’t control the results I get.

What I can control is the effort that I put in. And it’s that effort, rather than hitting a particular marker, that’s going to help me continue to become more courageous, focused and determined.

Effort, not results, will make me a better writer. And, I hope, a better person.

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dianne January 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Great post. And I thought you were a great writer when I started following you over a year ago but your writing is stronger than ever and maybe that’s an outflow of the novel-writing thing. And it’s so true about focusing on what we can control.

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Thanks Dianne! I agree my writing’s stronger now — partly because I’m getting more confident with my blogging voice, but I’m pretty sure the novel writing helped too.

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sandy January 6, 2011 at 2:42 pm

If you don’t find a publisher why don’t you put the first chapter on your blog as a teaser and for people to preview the book. Then sell the book in PDF format online. People would read your work and you would get a following. Then when you write the next novel you would have some marketing power to find a publisher.

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I’ve been thinking about self publishing in some format or other, but I’m reluctant to do that until I’ve exhausted all other avenues! There’s still a bit of a stigma against self-published fiction (non-fiction is a different matter) – and I’d ideally like to reach as many readers as possible.

Having said that, I’d definitely do *something* with the novel if I really can’t find any agent/publisher willing to take it on.

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Martina January 6, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Hi Ali,
why do you want to give your power away to people you do not even know, like agents and publishers. You give them the power to make decisions for YOUR LIFE.
Even Virginia Woolf bought herself a letter press and produced her own books. The publishing world is changing. Becoming a published author doesn´t mean anymore someone else has to make the decision that a book is worth to be published
You say “Lycopolis is the best thing I’ve ever written”. And you really think sending it out to agents is your “best shot” to get it out? Think of it: do you want a “publisher” for your book or do you want readers for your book? If you choose the first writing the book was probably a waste of time.
I wish you all the best,
Martina
.-= Martina´s last blog ..This Rose is for Anna =-.

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 4:38 pm

I agree that the publishing world is changing. I’ve self-published four ebooks, with two more due to come out this month…

I’ve thought long and hard about self-publishing Lycopolis. I’ve consulted a few writers I know and respect, and their view – and mine too, when I’m being honest – is that self-published novels are still regarded with a lot of suspicion. I hope that an agent or editor would help make my novel even stronger — I’ve made it as good as I can, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement!

I’m concerned that if I self-publish, I’ll put off potential readers. Frankly, *I’m* very wary of self-published novels (so far, I’ve never seen a good one, and I’ve seen plenty riddled with typos and what not). Sure, *I* think my work’s great, but why should the world believe that, if I can’t get an agent or publisher — an experienced professional — to back me up?

I could write a whole post on this (maybe I will…!) I’m grateful for your comment, because it’s an issue I have indeed thought a lot about — but I disagree with you that going for a publisher means that my writing was a waste of time.

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Nikki Groom January 6, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Ali, I admire your writing immensely – Martina expresses an interesting perspective. Have you looked into self-publishing using Amazon’s “Create Space” function? Perhaps if you don’t have any luck down the publisher route… You’re an inspiration – keep up the great work!

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Thanks for the kind words, Nikki :-) (And the retweet, too!) I’ll definitely give self-publishing more thought once I run out of agents and editors to query ;-) … at the moment, though, I’m gonna focus on the traditional route.

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Archan Mehta January 6, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Ali,

You are in a blue mood. It has to do with the weather, I don’t blame you. Seasonal Affective Disorder affects so many people. I get cranky without fresh air and sunshine. I need the outdoors to keep my chin up, but who wants to stir outside in this weather. Snuggle up in a warm blanket with a teddy bear and a cup of piping hot tea.

Another thing: you are certainly going to find a literary agent. You are bound to be published. Don’t you feel this way. Things are going to look up for you and sky is the limit. Take it from me: I am a writer too. I feel your pain, but have faith in your talent. You are a no-limits person and a fab gal. It is just a matter of time.

Have you consulted with small presses? There are publishers out there you can approach directly with a query letter. You don’t have to have an agent, not always. Until you find an agent, try to approach these small-time publishers. Think small. Once you get your book published, the big league publishers will take you more seriously. Sometimes, the mistake is that we try to aim for Knopf, Viking Penguin, McMillian and Bantam/Doubleday. Listen, that may not be the way to go at this stage. Start small and take baby steps.

Also, I don’t want you to give up on your creative writing, no matter what happens. You can write blog posts and maintain your blog and other stuff too. There is no reason why you can’t have it all because you deserve it.
You have slogged for so many years and don’t let things get to you. You are a sure-shot at success because you have what it takes. And when you become a celebrity, you will remember me for believing in your brilliance too.

Take it easy and chin up. Sooner or later, these agents are going to come to you. You are not the only one who is experiencing this condition. So, you are in good company, if that is any consolation. My best wishes to you.

Cheers to your fab life. And I really like the snap of you sitting down to write. You are a winner in my book.

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Thanks Archan! And yes, this horrid weather doesn’t help anything — so gloomy out! It’s dark already and it’s only 4.30pm here. :-(

I’ve got a few small presses in mind to approach, and yep, I know I don’t necessarily need an agent — though I think agents do a great and valuable job, and would love to have one if possible!

I certainly won’t give up on writing in general, don’t worry! I’d sooner give up chocolate than writing (and that’s saying something…)

Thanks for all the kind words, as ever — you’re always a cheering voice!

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Archan Mehta January 6, 2011 at 4:18 pm

Ali,

I really don’t care for the fact that you judge your writing on the basis of the end result. I know it is frustrating, how upset one can feel when an agent does not respond to you. I have rejection slips piled up to my ceiling and so did Stephen King, a writer you admire and have written about. Instead of worrying about the outcome, stay engaged with the process of writing. Keep on writing regularly if not daily. Whenever an idea strikes you, capture it.
Don’t worry about getting published. That’s going to happen, sooner or later.

Once, I sent out several poems to a publication, and the worst one got published. Would you believe it? The ones that I cherished were rejected and the one poem that was yucky was published. Talk about literary taste.
So, art is subjective and personal. That’s why you should not take rejection personally. However, I know that is easier said than done, but I”ve had my fair share of ups and downs too, so I know how that goes. The only antidote is to keep on writing without any expectation of being rewarded for your efforts. Cheer up.

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 4:43 pm

My point here was more that I’m trying *NOT* to judge it based on the result! And yep, I loved King’s anecdote about the nail that he put rejection slips on.

Great point about how subjective and personal art is. My workshop group have enjoyed Lycopolis (and a friend’s been pestering me on Twitter to send him the whole thing!) and I guess it’s just a matter of a bit of luck and patience now … hopefully I’ll find an agent who likes it just as much. :-)

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Lorna January 6, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Ali, I relate to so much that you say here – being published is about public validation, but there really is so much more to writing than that. I have been published and I’ve also struggled to sell books I believe in. The central paradox of being a writer is that we feel such a mixture of self-belief, even arrogance, and doubt and defeatism. You’re quite right – failure is giving up. Failure is not even trying in the first place. Success is knowing we’ve stuck to a project for the long-haul. Success is looking at a neat pile of pages which contain words in sequences only your individual brain and psyche could have produced. Success is always to want to develop and hone your skills. The publishing world in its conventional sense is risk-averse and limited – so, as others are advising, and as I’m considering myself – publish your own work yourself. You’ve got a head start in that you have such a great knowledge of the social marketing world! You have an audience and a wide potential readership. Good luck! xxx

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Thanks, Lorna! It’s really interesting to hear that from you — I’ve had very mixed feelings, and mixed advice, about the publishing world. Most of the aspiring authors I know are very much focused on the traditional route, and there’s a lot of wariness about (fiction) self-publishing now … which I feel is for good reasons.

If I had your track record, perhaps…!

I guess I feel I’d like to know that I *am* publishable, before pouring lots of time into trying to self-publish. (Happy to self-*promote*, but that’s a slightly different kettle of fish!)

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Steve January 6, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Ali, have you thought of self publishing your work? This may be an option if you can’t get an agent interested. At least it would be out there! I have three novels written and I have not gotten one agent to ever look at them. My opinion of literary agents is not high. With self publishing gaining momentum, I think these picky over self absorbed agents may be working themselves out of a job. Do I sound bitter? :-)

Seriously, it seems that getting an agent is about the same odds as winning the lottery. You have proven you are a good writer. Getting an agent may not be your only option.
.-= Steve´s last blog ..Will You Bust Out Your Art In 2011 =-.

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Crumbs, I didn’t expect so many people to support the self-publishing route! The agents I’ve met seem like very nice, knowledgeable people who are simply inundated with great material … so I certainly don’t take rejection personally, or have anything against the industry.

Like I’ve said in comments above, I have considered self-publishing (and continue to consider it). At the moment, I feel that I’m best off looking for an agent/publisher in the traditional way (though that could mean going for a small press / independent publisher), and only considering self-publishing after that.

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Mary E. Ulrich January 6, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Hi Ali,

You are well past the “failure” stage. That can’t happen. So now, it is just a matter of what form do you want your success to take. You got you MA, you actually wrote your novel (not like the 95% who still WANT to write a novel). Lycopolis is finished and you feel pretty good about it, right?

Sorry, but I feel like I should rant about your university program not helping you with this most important step!!!!!!!

So now you need a publishing strategy: Are you part of any writing groups? Do you belong to writer organizations? What genre is Lycopolis? Have you been to a conference in that genre and pitched your book? met agents? There is lots more you can try.

Ali, you write for A-list blogs. You are a respected name in the business. You actually get paid for your writing. So chin up.

I know it is discouraging. I know you like lists–make a list and the actions you take will still make you feel like you are moving forward toward your dream. Meanwhile, start on your next novel or a sequel.

Hope you are smiling–because this is sent with love, Mary

What you do with your novel is up to you. But you have lots of choices.
.-= Mary E. Ulrich´s last blog ..The Race Toward Inclusion Do you see it =-.

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Thanks, Mary! Goldsmiths helped a bit (they brought in an agent or two to talk to us about the publishing industry) but realistically, their job isn’t to get us published, it’s to improve our writing!

Great point about making a list – I’m a fan of written-down action plans, and I guess I need to work on one here.

Thanks for the love and support, it’s much appreciated! :-)

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Sam January 6, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Self-publishing is not a route anyone should consider unless they’re willing to invest a massive amount of time in marketing and selling their own work. It’s all very well saying how much more there is to writing than getting published, but self-publishing requires you to do so much more in order to get your writing to a goodly number of readers.

Please don’t think of sending to agents and publishing houses as some kind of pandering to a great machine. Instead, think of it as allowing you to focus on the writing and letting someone else do the job of selling your work. Getting published is not a crap shoot by any stretch. It’s just far more work than the average person is willing to commit to.

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Ali January 6, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Sam, this is pretty much how I feel about it at the moment … I’m well aware of just how much time it takes to find an audience.

(Yes, thousands of people read my writing *now*, but none of you saw my first feeble attempts at blogging eight years ago…!)

I’m also aware that, even with a publisher, I’ll need to do some marketing myself, and I’m cool with that. But I’d like the quality control of going the traditional route, if at all possible…

We’ll see. I’m not ruling anything out at this stage, but I definitely feel that despite the digital revolution, the vast majority of novels are still published under the traditional model. I can think of a tiny number of self-published novels which later did well (Shadowmancer comes to mind, and when I read that, I thought how much better the prose would have been if GP Taylor had had a good editor!)

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Todd January 6, 2011 at 6:29 pm

I guess this is the eternal question for a writer, isn’t it? IMO, a writer should write whether they are published or not, the same as a painter painting whether they have a successful art show or not. I continue blogging even though I haven’t made doodly-squat… I just love doing helping those who come by seeking my expertise.
.-= Todd´s last blog ..A Few Moments With Angelique Kronebusch =-.

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:16 pm

I’m surprised you’re not making money yet — you’ve got a great blog! Though I agree with you, I think being a writing is about *writing*, and publication isn’t necessarily everyone’s goal.

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Farnoosh January 6, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Dear Ali, you just have not found an agent YET! This of course has nothing to do with the whole topic of success versus failure but just to go back to your beloved novel sitting in your lap, I want to add that you may control when you finish your first, second and third drafts but not the timing of it showing up in print but it simply does not mean that it won’t…..!! You have no idea how many opportunities will come to you in 2011, how many doors will open, how many people you will meet and how many more will recognize your talent….just keep talking about your novel and make sure everyone knows about it…then leave the rest to faith…for lack of a better word here…although I do like that one.
And success vs. failure: Well, so much to say on this. I will just say this. I am proud of you for pushing through on this book, for investing in it and by that, investing in yourself, and for looking back and picking the lessons out of the journey as you deal with your feelings of the immediate outcome….(without having any clue about the long-term outcome, did I mention you could very well find an agent later? ;))! Best of luck, dear Ali, and your writing shines to me and many others….so you have come a long way!
.-= Farnoosh´s last blog ..Crushing Travel Barriers- Your Quick Thoughts =-.

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:17 pm

I love the YET! :-)

And great point about opportunities — I’m going to try to be open to what comes up. I’ve just seen news of a new novel competition here in the UK that I’m going to have a shot at, too. :-)

I always love the *energy* of your writing … your enthusiasm just jumps out of the screen!

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Tom Meitner January 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm

It’s the classic “Life’s not about what happens to you, it’s about how you respond” angle. I love it. In the old days, people took pride in a job well done. It was the effort that you responded to. Nowadays, everyone’s focused on results. You’ve obviously learned it right, Ali! Way to go, congratulations on finishing, and if you don’t get a publisher, self-publish it and kick some butt!
.-= Tom Meitner´s last blog ..Boundary Breakers- Helen Keller =-.

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Cheers Tom! Good point about “a job well done” — I find it almost impossible to half-arse something, whether or not anyone’s going to know … and I try to see that as a strength!

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Deborah Fike January 6, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Thanks as always, Ali, for writing about your struggles and your insight into it. I’ve struggled with the same issues, and it’s one of the biggest issues blocking me from editing my second novel. It still needs a lot of work even to get to the agent stage and I don’t want to feel like I waste my time. It’s hard to get over that hump, and it’s even harder to put yourself out for others to criticize and reject (as agents are wont to do).

Still, when I view the effort, I do think it matters. I think it, at a bare, bare minimum, makes you a stronger writer. It gives you the confidence to know you can tackle a large goal. And it fulfills a dream you have been pursuing.

Thanks for getting me motivated to re-think my own writing strategies. :)
.-= Deborah Fike´s last blog ..Fellowstream is out of beta! =-.

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Thanks Deborah — and good luck with the editing. I think it IS worthwhile (even if you’re not sure the novel is ultimately going to work) because you’ll learn a ton for the next novel. The novel before this one went through three drafts, and I eventually shelved it… but it was a great learning process and I no longer feel sad that it didn’t get anywhere.

I’m telling myself that I’ll get over this one, too, if it doesn’t get published, but it’s tough to see it that way right now!

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Alex Blackwell January 6, 2011 at 9:45 pm

You are a tremendous person Ali and your writing allows us to see you clearer and with more love – what an amazing gift you give us.

No matter if our words are never sold for a penny, know this: Writing is medicine for our souls.

Best always,

Alex

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:20 pm

Thanks Alex. I have days when writing is definitely keeping me sane!

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Janet Callaway January 7, 2011 at 12:36 am

Ali, what a “from the heart” post. Had you never tried, had you never put forth the effort, had you never persevered, you would have always wondered “what if” and, deep inside, you would have always known you “never” . . . You are the one who determines whether or not you made the “mark”–not some third party source of validation. Just as it is “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” so too is better to have made the effort and perhaps fall short in the eyes of the world than do to nothing except makes excuses. Bravo. Janet

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Great point. And yes, I think it’d have been very easy for me to keep saying “Oh, if only I had time, I’d write a novel…” and it’d just be a pipe dream.

I feel that if I give it my best, and know that I’ve tried my utmost, that should be satisfaction enough!

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Steff Metal January 7, 2011 at 4:34 am

This was a beautiful post, Ali.

I remember, when I gave up on my first novel. It was two years ago, after it won a competition to go to a national conference so I could pitch it to an editor of one of the major houses, and the editor read it three times, and made two lots of editing suggestions and then said “It’s just not working, but send me anything else you’ve got.”

I cried. But she was right. It wasn’t working. I was so CLOSE, so goddamn close, but it was still a no. She said “I think you’re a fantastic writer” and all I wanted to do was scream, “well, buy my book then, you crazy wench!”

It’s HARD, taking that manuscript you’ve worked on for YEARS and setting it on the shelf and trying to forget about it. And it doesn’t get easier the second or third (especially the third) time you do it, but when you start that new book, you suddenly realise how far you’ve come.

I read once in a writing forum that you shouldn’t shelve a book till you get 100 rejections. I got 100 for my first book, with one major house, four smaller presses and a handful of agents reading fulls. For my second book, I got around 50, with around 25 requests for fulls, all sent back saying “This is hilarious, but I can’t sell it.” For my third book, I’ve sent maybe 20. it placed in 2 competitions, was read by 2 major houses and has been requested by every agent I’ve sent it to. EVERY SINGLE ONE. I’m waiting on answers from four right now.

I’m writing the forth now, the book that first editor thinks will be THE ONE, and am feeling that magic again that suggests it might be THE ONE …

You KNOW, objectively, that you’re a good writer. This is not a question. I don’t know how many agents and editors to try, but the “query 100″ advice worked really well for me. With 100, you get a gauge of what the market thinks. You can tweak the query letter, the sample, the synopsis. You can try big presses, small presses, big agents, small agents, not-quite-but-going-to-be-soon agents … and after 100, you KNOW whether you can sell that thing. 100 is a fair go. 100 is an “I’ve exhausted all of my options” number.

And if you’ve done 100, and you’ve got nothing, girl, you should write the next book, because it is gonna knock ‘em dead. :)
.-= Steff Metal´s last blog ..Why it’s Hard Selling Stuff Online Not Info-Products- Actual Stuff and How You Can Fix It =-.

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Thanks Steff, and thanks for your email too.

And eesh on your novel :-( That’s really really tough. I had an agent tell me, regarding Lycopolis, “Let me know if it gets published, I’d like to read it.” But she didn’t want to *agent* it… :-( I guess, though, you’d have to really LOVE a novel to want to take it on like that.

I shelved the last novel, almost four years ago now. I stopped really minding, somehow. I guess I knew that one wasn’t really as good as I wanted it to be. Got one request for a full manuscript, and a couple of personal replies — so I’ll look to at least beat that total this time ;-)

Hope the third goes brilliantly, fingers crossed for an agent for you. Hope the magic of the fourth stays. :-)

And yes, I know I’m a good writer. The problem is, I don’t know yet if I’m a commercially attractive writer…

One hundred is a great number to shoot for. I’ll give it a hundred. Then I’ll move on.

I’ve already got the idea for the next book, and it’s creepy and, I think, topical, and I’m a bit worried it’s gonna make all my friends in the blogosphere run away… ;-)

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Steff Metal January 12, 2011 at 6:39 am

DO IT. It’s always those ones that end up being the most loved :). I remember reading an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson about her struggle to write SPEAK and worrying what everyone would think of her, and of all the YA novels in the whole history of books every published ever, I think that’s one of the most moving.
.-= Steff Metal´s last blog ..The perils of working for unknown returns =-.

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Ali January 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Hadn’t heard of Laurie Halse Anderson before (we don’t always get American authors in the UK, and I’m out of touch with the YA world) … will look out for Speak. Ta!

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Ali Mac January 7, 2011 at 9:39 pm

You will absolutely get there in the end, because you have the determination to finish, and the discipline to make a success from freelance writing. One? Pshaw! But I’m sure you know that, just got to just carry on with the rest of the plan. I love the title.

I have a dear friend who did a creative writing MA and got horribly stuck. You are way beyond that, and it’s a terrific gift. Keep on going :)

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Another Ali! Hello! :-)

I think determination counts so much in writing (in fact, “tenacity” is one of the qualities I’m encouraging writers to develop in my On Track course).

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Laurie @mylivingpower January 8, 2011 at 6:08 am

Hi Ali,
Unlike everyone else who is telling you what they think of what you said, I’m just going to say this:

I’m right there with you. Your post touched exactly where I’m struggling tonight (as I’m commenting and not even finishing my proposal!” Your words gave me a swift kick in the ass to get back to work. :)

Thanks!
.-= Laurie @mylivingpower´s last blog ..God still heals Even when youve given up =-.

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Well, thanks Laurie! hope you got that proposal done! :-)

I’ve been really touched by the responses to this post, but what I’d *hoped* people would take away was something for themselves … that what really matters is the effort you put in and the learning that you do, not just the results that you get.

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Laurie @mylivingpower January 8, 2011 at 6:13 am

…which will apparently also include re-learning how to type punctuation marks! :)
.-= Laurie @mylivingpower´s last blog ..God still heals Even when youve given up =-.

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:28 pm

Sneaky things! I tend to blame my keyboard ;-)

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farouk January 8, 2011 at 8:27 am

i am eager to the read the novel Ali,
thinks are usually hard in the beginning, i spent a lot of time trying to market a book i wrote without getting any results until i found a way, just keep going :)

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:29 pm

You’re one of my examples of perseverance, Farouk – I’m so impressed how big 2KnowMyself has become, and I see you all over the ‘net writing comment and guest posts. Dunno how you find the energy!

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Theresa January 8, 2011 at 6:43 pm

If it’s important, don’t give up. And in those dark hours before dawn when it’s just you and that little voice that nags at you and asks questions like – “Did I just waste two years of my life?” – remember how the people reacted who -have- been able to read your work and hold that close to your heart. Believe.

Here are some links to lists of well-known writers who were rejected, some of them with comments. I find them encouraging. :)

http://frankfiore.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/famous-rejection-letters/

http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/archives/77149

http://susiesmith13.tripod.com/id12.html

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Thanks Theresa! Great links :-)

And yes, you’re right – even if only a handful of people ever read the novel, it’s still touched them.

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Sandra Lee January 10, 2011 at 2:24 am

Ali,

I am so amazed by your determination and courage. That’s a victory right there even if the novel never gets published. But I bet it will Thanks for having the guts to dig deep and share your process with us. You’re a winner in my eyes.
.-= Sandra Lee´s last blog ..Free Yourself with Free Writing =-.

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your 'fantastic father-in-law! '..Dec3rd 2010 January 11, 2011 at 8:36 pm

If your goal when you started was to get your novel published by 10th jan 2011 and be on the shortlist for the Mann-Booker prize etc..etc Then you are a total FAILURE…IF Your Goal was to write and complete a novel that YOU ARE PROUD OF and given your post you are THEN YOU ARE A SUCCESS.
In my opinion wether your novel is ever published or not (something that is outside of your control apart from the effort involved in contacting publishers and agents) you have also gained valuable experience; which as a writting coach, may enable you to encourage the next, Tolstoy, Austin, Dumas, Tolkien, to complete their first novel. Hardly a waste of two years. And perhaps you are now a Word-Smith rather than a Journeyman Writter.

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Farnoosh January 11, 2011 at 8:46 pm

Loved this great perspective and advice from your father-in-law, Ali!! And he names all my favorite authors too. What coincidence… :) !
.-= Farnoosh´s last blog ..Taking Back the Reins- Guilty Feeling Begone =-.

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Thanks New Dad! :-)

And yeah, great point — I’ve worked with some awesome writers who I’d love to see get their books into print. One of my friends from the MA course has had part of her memoir published in the Telegraph, another has had a story on the radio … it’s been great to see these pieces of writing go through the workshop and end up published!

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Doug January 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm

Couldn’t resist that..
If I had ever learnt to write, I would have commented on that earlier post, and suggested a mutual admiration society, but as I often struggle to write more than happy birthday in a card, it wouldn’t be long before you realised I was merely fishing for compliments.
P.S. Would love to read Lycopolis..as I have enjoyed reading Aliventures and have come back to read more even though I am not the intendended audience.
For a P.P.S. I would like the dedication in one of your future novels to read For my STILL fantastic father-in-law. Even if I dont get time to read it would be shown to everyone I met.

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Ali January 11, 2011 at 9:36 pm

Hahah! Is that a promise that you’ll *always* be fantastic then? ;-)

Lulu is shipping me more copies of Lycopolis, cos a couple of friends asked me for one… I’ll have a third going spare. Will sign it for you. ;-)

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Doug January 11, 2011 at 11:39 pm

dont know about promise but I might live upto the hype and you can at least be certain you’re my favourite daughter.

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Eoin Meegan January 12, 2011 at 4:40 pm

It never ceases to astound me how easy it is to give good sound, and effective advice to another, but sooooo darn hard to apply it to ourselves. I know this as a spiritual life coach. I find myself falling short in my own life when I would be able to give compassionate advice to another. It’s just human nature, I think.

You know Ali you will find a find an agent and get your book published, and it will be a success (I’ll certainly buy it) and you’re not wasting your time. Now, if only I could be so optimistic about my own future!

I am really . . . but sometimes we forget. That’s the trouble, sometimes we forget to be loving towards ourselves. Happy new year.
.-= Eoin Meegan´s last blog ..Jan 12- new year =-.

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Ali January 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Thanks Eoin. Good point about advice … I often find myself reading my own blog posts and thinking “hmm, now I really should put that into action” ;-)

I sometimes try to think “what would I say to a friend who was in this situation”? And invariably, I’d be more encouraging to them than I am to myself!

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Sam January 13, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Rather than asking whether writing for a non-existent audience is a waste of time (99.99% of writers need to deal with that), a better question would be: Is there a point in writing something that’s been done a thousand times before?

This is the thing currently stopping me. I enjoy writing, but when, every time, I realise that there’s nothing original in the story I’ve just begun, I stop.
.-= Sam´s last blog ..I Like Stakes =-.

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Ali January 14, 2011 at 5:08 pm

Good point. I think it’s a dangerous trap, though; surely almost *everything* has been done, to some extent, before?

I’ve got stuff which I think is new, at least in the way I do it. A virtual world interacting with the dream world and the real world. A computer game as a serious and meaningful form of interaction between people. I’ve got stuff which definitely isn’t new – themes like absent fathers, bullying, married couple buckling under financial strain, a story-within-a-story etc…

So long as you’re bringing something unique and fresh – in your voice, perspective, characters, etc – then I’m not sure that total originality is essential.

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Oops upside the head September 7, 2012 at 10:34 am

Hi! I want to say: I really love your look in the picture up above because you look very 1972 and I LOVE that! Like a hippie student. I love that. Oh, by the way, I know I am responding to this post REALLY, really late, so I thank you for letting me comment at this time.

As for your post, I didn’t read the whole thing. I actually stopped before you started to change your mind at the end. You know, like maybe you really feel like you’ve wasted your time but to be politically correct you might throw in a “But I’ve changed my mind” at the end. I didn’t want to read that so I stopped while I was ahead. My family keeps pushing me to write and I absolutely HATE it by now. I mean, when I was a teen it was fine because it was still interesting. I really wanted to see my book on a shelf in a bookstore somewhere. Now I’m in my 30′s and I STILL have not been able to even secure a literary agent, let alone get published! I have done everything I was supposed to do. I took classes, I read in various genres, I wrote book after book, and then I see people like James Franco (whose writing is horrid) get published in Esquire and get contracts. His writing is soooo bad. I’m not saying that to be mean. I’m not angry with him, but…even Snooki has her books published.

In 2010 I was working on another book I’d been working on for 9 years when it suddenly hit me. Have you ever been half-aspleep and had somebody splash cold water in your face and then you suddenly ‘wake up’ alert? Well, it was like that. It suddenly dawned on me that I was wasting my time, that publishers would never take what anything I wrote, and that I’d wasted the last decade of my life working on something like a book, when I could’ve spent that time cultivating another profession-a profession where I would be rewarded for my hard work. And it’s not even the hard work, it’s the TIME that book-writing consumes. Books can consume years of one’s life, years a person cannot get back. And for what? A stack of rejection slips? I also did everything the literary agents asked of me, down to the letter. I followed every direction on their websites and still it was the same. Nothing changed. Isn’t the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting diferent results?

Well, I’ve stopped seeking publication. However I DO think Amazon has opened a whole new world for writers with their KDP program. It’s letting writers get some kind of reward for their hard work. And millions of writers can now bypass traditional publishers. I think that’s great! They can move forward and meet their new fans. Traditional publishers have Snooki and those like her, they don’t need regular people. All of this is perfect. Anyway, I’m publishing my book series on Amazon KDP and it feels great. I still do everything I would’ve done before sending it off to literary agents, only now I don’t need lit agents for anything.

Wow, my response is so long. I’m sorry about that :(

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Ali September 13, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Thanks! Glad you like the pic and my style (or lack thereof ;-)).

Since I wrote this (getting on for 2 years ago now), my thinking developed a bit further … I decided that traditional publication was far from the only route to go down, and I brought out my novel Lycopolis as an ebook (yes, using Amazon KDP). The lovely reviews and reactions I’ve had so far have made the writing seem well worth it! So very best of luck with your use of Amazon KDP too!

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Seth April 6, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Ali,

This is the first online post that I have ever replied to so this is kind of a big deal for me and just goes to show that your musings about your own experience with not settling for less than your best definitely impacted me. I am an undergraduate pre-med student who happens to absolutely love writing and literature and for years I think I sold myself short on the idea that writing was a waste of my time. That I should be focusing on other aspects of my life, like getting internships and volunteering (and making those ever important grades!). Within the last few months I developed an idea for a book that I would love to write. But I made so many excuses for why I shouldn’t- “I’ll never get published”, “I don’t have enough time”, “It will take so long”, and worried about the all of the terrible “what-ifs”, instead of digging in and putting forth tangible EFFORT and making the time. Even if I never get published, the chance to develop my writing style, to not set an easy goal for myself but to actually set a challenge, with the idea that I might actually grow, is so great that it could never possibly be a failure. Thank you for sharing and good luck to you in your future work :)

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Ali May 17, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Seth, thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment — I’m honoured that one of my online posts was the first you’ve replied to. :-)

There are always, always excuses not to write … but you’ll never know what could be possible unless you go for it. I’m really glad this piece could inspire you, and I do hope you make a start on your book. I’m sure pre-med is a heck of a lot more work than English literature (my undergrad degree) was — but even if you can find time to write 1,000 words a week, you’d have a short book — or half a longer one — after a year.

Very best of luck!

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