10th Anniversary Feature: Laurel Snyder

In celebration of the ten year anniversary of, I asked some first-time authors the following question:

As a debut author, what are the most important lessons you’ve learned about your craft, the writing life, and/or publishing, and why?

Here’s the latest reply, this one from author Laurel Snyder:

It’s funny, but with all I’ve learned over the past few years—through about 17 drafts, as many failed manuscripts, several amazing editors and agents…the biggest lesson I learned was not a writing lesson, but a personal lesson.

A lesson in how to be patient. How to turn off my ambition and relax. Wait for it.

A writer who wants to be published has to cultivate a kind of stubborn, constant energy flow. When I was sending out my book I was certain that the only way to make it happen was to keep at it.

And so every time a rejection came back I sent it back out. I talked to any agent who’d chat with me. I lurked on all sorts of bulletin boards and in chat rooms, read blogs, and revised and revised and revised. I never stopped thinking about how to get there

But then, gloriously, astoundingly, it all paid off! I sold two books at once (both from slush), and I found that there wasn’t anything to do anymore but write.

Suddenly, I had an agent and an editor and I didn’t have to think about getting there. And I found that was weirdly difficult. To stop the ambition wheels from spinning in my brain. To slow down my breathing and think of stories I wanted to tell, instead of thinking about how to get people to read the stories I’d already written.

I’d sit down to write, but instead I’d find myself online, surfing the blueboards for editors who might like my next picture book idea (though I already had an option to fulfill). I’d reconsider my agent choice for no good reason. I actually dreamed about becoming an agent myself.

See, while it’s frustrating to be unpublished, the constant ebb and flow of submissions is also kind of addictive. Every day there’s something to do. Every day there’s a hold-your-breath-and-open-your-mail moment. And you make it happen. You’re in charge. It’s a roller coaster, and I’m a roller coaster kind of girl.

It turns out that being a published author is the opposite. You’re not in charge anymore, and the publishing world moves at the speed of a sleeping sloth.

So you sit, and wait, and crack your knuckles, and dream about the book that is, in theory, going to come out. But you can’t make it happen. You can’t flood the world with emails and speed things up. And for me, that was hard, a lesson to learn.

It took effort. I had to learn to take a deep breath, turn off the Internet, and just start the next book…