Author Doubt: An AFTERWORLDS Perspective

I was reading Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld the other day and I was amazed at the amount of times I felt like throwing my hands up and crying, “YES! As a newly published author, that’s EXACTLY how I feel!”

Let me give you some context. The book (which I’ll admit, I kinda gave up on half way through – but not because it was bad by any means, simply because I have a tonne of books I’m working my way through at the moment and a number of them were calling for my attention) is a YA story within a YA story. Let me explain: The ‘real life’ story is about a girl called Darcy who just graduated high school and was offered this outrageously amazing book deal for her YA manuscript (with a protagonist named Lizzie) – and it’s that manuscript that takes up the alternating chapters of the entire novel. So, like, Chapter 1 is from Darcy’s POV (the ‘real life’ story) and Chapter 2 is from Lizzie’s POV (Darcy’s YA fantasy story). Does that make sense? I hope so, since I’m moving on now.

Like I said, I only made it about half way, but there were some moments where I could just so completely relate to Darcy’s mental freak outs regarding being a new author. I’ve pulled out some of the quotes where I was like, “Scott Westerfeld, you totally nailed this feeling!” and I want to share them here to help encourage other writers to know that, well, I guess it’s normal to doubt yourself. We are our biggest critics, after all. And that can be good, because it helps keep us humble. But don’t let it cripple you – keep writing, no matter how scary it can be and how much of a faker you might sometimes feel.

Here are some great examples, with my thoughts after each:

“…maybe that was the only thing I could ever write about. Like it was an accident… Kiralee says that every book she’s ever written feels like an accident… But books don’t happen by accident… “

For anyone who follows this blog, you’ll know that I finished writing a new book about a fortnight ago. I remember the next morning I was out walking and was like, “Did I seriously just write another book? How on earth did that happen?” I came to the conclusion that I don’t know how an aeroplane gets from the ground and into the air, and it’s okay that I don’t know. I mean, sure, I realise there’s some kind of fuel and velocity and propelling and wing-stuff involved, but I don’t know the specific details of how it gets from the tarmac into the clouds. It just does. The same goes for me writing a book – it may feel like an accident, like I have no idea how it happened, but that doesn’t make it any less real. It still… is. And that, therefore, means it’s not an accident.

 

When Darcy is asked how the progress is going for her sequel:

“Um… I’m still outlining, I guess?”

“Still outlining,” Max repeated in a neutral tone, typing with one thumb as they walked.

Darcy wondered why she’d just lied. Afterworlds had simply poured from her fingers, and she had no intention of outlining Untitled Patel. Darcy was fairly certain she didn’t know how to outline.

It was possible she didn’t know how to write novels, either, and that last November’s efforts had been some sort of statistical fluke. If a hundred thousand novels were written all at once, surely one would be good purely by accident, like passages of Shakespeare typed by a monkey. But that lucky primate would never write another sonnet, even if someone gave it a publishing contract.

*Laughs* I can’t tell you how many times I’ve freaked out about something like this over the course of the last year since being offered my publishing contract. When I was signed on for my five-book series, both Akarnae and Raelia (book two) were complete, as well as the first book in another trilogy. But as the clocked ticked down, I began to realise that the time was coming where I would have to write book three, four and five in The Medoran Chronicles, as well as the other two books in the trilogy (and whatever new projects my mind conceived in that time). I can’t tell you how much I can related to Darcy’s “statistical fluke” fears in the quote above. I even remember speaking to my mother on the phone and whispering, “What if I don’t know how to write the next book? What if I can’t write it? What if it just doesn’t want to be written?”

Thankfully, my mother is amazing, and after telling me (very lovingly) not to be ridiculous, I took a deep breath and realised that there was no point worrying about it – yet.

But still, the doubt does linger in the back of my mind. And, strangely, I think that might almost be healthy, in a weird way. Because, hopefully, that means I’ll be more inclined to get it right when the time comes, rather than throw out a few words on paper and hope that they equal a story. Let no one ever say I don’t care about my characters enough to give them the adventure they deserve!

 

At an event with a bunch of famous authors:

She wondered how long before someone figured out she was an imposter and asked her to leave.

Oh. My. Gosh! I think I actually burst out laughing when I read the above line, mostly because that’s exactly how I felt for the duration of my Supanova trip to Melbourne and the Gold Coast in April. For anyone who read those posts, you might remember that I was privileged to spend a significant amount of time with some incredible big-name authors, such as Peter F. Hamilton, Traci Harding, and John Scalzi (total congrats to him on his amazing book deal news from last week, btw!) among others. So many times we’d all be out having drinks or dinner after our scheduled events, just hanging out for the fun of it, and I’d be lost in my mind wondering, “Is this really happening? Am I really here right now? Am I allowed to be here right now?” It was so bizarre! I kept waiting for someone to kick me out of the “cool club”… But they didn’t – in fact, despite the fact that my debut novel had only come out two months previous, they totally embraced me as one of their own. And yet, just like Darcy in the above quote, I still felt like a total imposter. To be perfectly honest, most of the time I still do, haha. It’s incredibly surreal!

 

When asked about her book:

The three of them waited for her to go on, but a familiar paralysis crept over Darcy. It was always like this when someone asked about her novel. She knew from experience that whatever she said now would sound awkward, like listening to a recording of her own voice. How was she supposed to compress sixty thousand words into a few sentences?

Yep, yep, and yep again. I can related to this sooooo much! In fact, when I had my first radio interview for drive-time ABC a couple of months ago, I remember the CEO of Pantera Press spending, like, an hour and a half on the phone with me and prompting me over and over again, “Tell me about Akarnae?” as if she was a radio interviewer and I was answering the stock question. At first, my responses were just so dry and scripted! Like reading straight off the blurb or reading a query letter aloud or something. It was awful! *Laughs* But by the end of our chat, she’d managed to help me realise that being natural and, well, being me was the best way to answer anything. Mostly because when I’m relaxed and authentic, my passion for my story and characters flows naturally and I don’t need a scripted answer. When it comes down to it, I know Akarnae better than anyone, so as long as I didn’t have to freak out about having the “right” answer, I could just have fun with my response – and depending on the audience, play around with my words to offer the best description to whoever is listening. (In case you’re curious, despite our 90 minute interview training over-the-phone session, none of the prompts we practiced were actually asked to me, but they certainly helped loosen me up enough to respond to the left-field, totally unexpected questions thrown my way in that radio interview!)

 

Last one:

“Being an author sucks, doesn’t it? It’s like telling a joke and nobody laughs for two years.” 

I wanted to both laugh and sigh at this quote, because it’s so true. The publication process is sooooo slow – but that’s really just the industry in general for you. And there’s beauty in that, but there’s also plenty of frustration. Basically, it’s a fantastic opportunity for the development of patience (*insert half-smile, half-grimace here*). But yeah – you write a book and the world doesn’t see it for what can feel like forever. The waiting is painful. Worth it, but still… *Shrugs*… (That said, I totally need to mention the context for the above quote, because the first half of it is meant to come across as sarcastic, since it’s said by another author in the novel. In NO WAY does being an author suck! It’s, like, amazing!)

 

To summarise, despite the fact that both the ‘real story’ and the YA fantasy chapters in Afterworlds are fictional, Darcy’s account of being a new author really resonated with me. It was nice, in a wacky, weird way, to read her fears and doubts and ‘see’ for myself that I’m not the only one thinking such things. And yeah, I know she’s not real – but Scott Westerfeld is. And Darcy is his creation. If she, as his fictional character, is able to express such thoughts, I have to wonder if, just perhaps, he may have felt the same once upon a time as well. And that gives me hope – because, seriously? It’s Scott Westerfeld. Jeez, talk about a cool author!

9 thoughts on “Author Doubt: An AFTERWORLDS Perspective

  1. Congratulations on your own writing progress! I follow you but am a random reader of posts. I try to keep up and enjoy hearing about your writing. I tend to agree with you that we put some of our own self into our characters. I have never been published but enjoy my blog, having completed three children’s books and a rough draft for a murder mystery, I hope someday to be closer to publishing. I encourage others since it will be nice to be able to say, “I knew them then. . .” :)

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