The Author’s Life Cycle

For a conference last year I developed a presentation about my experience as a debut author. I call it “My Journey with The Rock and the River,” and it’s all about the phenomenon I’ve dubbed The Author’s Life Cycle. The evolution of this presentation was pretty unusual, because the topic they had asked me to present on was “My Journey to the NAACP Image Awards,” which initially gave me the eemy-squeamy feeling of tooting my own horn a little too hard. But as I thought more about it, I realized there actually was an important journey I could speak about. A journey that wasn’t about the award itself (such things are windfall, entirely beyond our personal control), but about my transformation from being a person who wrote a novel once to being a person whose book was out in the world, rapidly gaining attention and reaching new readers every day.

The Author’s Life Cycle is an ongoing process, one that renews itself with each and every book. It’s not singular, or static, or a thing that you move through in a linear fashion, graduating from one stage to the next, never to return. It is practically a living entity that exists alongside you, grows with you and changes with you, always keeping you on your toes. If you’re lucky. If you’re not, it can just as easily spin you into despair or dissolution.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

I. Alone in my room: The exciting, independent creative process of developing your manuscript.
II. Publish me, pretty please: The long road to publication; the queries, rejections, hope and despair.
III. My baby, all grown up: The publication experience; the transition from manuscript to actual book.
IV. Feedback: Receiving reviews, meeting your readers, releasing ownership of your material to your audience.
V. Interfacing and Inspiration: Drawing on new activities and interactions for renewed inspiration.

I have a LOT to say about this journey and its stages (hence the decision to blog), but for now I leave you with this:

Once I began to understand this cycle, it explained so much about the roller coaster of emotions I experienced along with The Rock and the River. The overwhelming, preoccupying joy at one end of the spectrum, down to the deep, unsettling anxiety of feeling overexposed and vulnerable.

It was so hard to talk about all those emotions, especially because I couldn’t figure out who to talk about them to. Friends and family care about my well-being, but they just don’t fully get it. (“You’re published. You’ve arrived. What’s the problem?”) Writer friends got some of it, but because I was one of the first among my inner circle to publish, it was hard sometimes to talk about the ups and downs without feeling like I was bragging about what I’d achieved. (“You’re nervous about talking to your new editor? You mean the editor for your soon-to-be-published novel? Boo, hoo.”) So, I ended up shouldering these feelings mostly alone.

I suspect that says more about me and my own little hang-ups than it does about the people in my life, who have been unfailingly supportive and sympathetic. It’s simply my way of speaking about some of the isolating aspects of authorhood. We start out in our private little worlds, writing up a storm, but there comes a point (somewhere around your first book birthday) where it’s time to step out of our heads and into the world. And it’s so much scarier than putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Turns out, that was the easy part.

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