Nora Raleigh Baskin on Making Deals with the Writing Gods (Writing for the Long Haul series)

Over the past twelve years middle grade and young adult writer Nora Raleigh Baskin has published nearly a dozen books. Today she joins the long haul series to talk about something most writers never stop hoping for, no matter how long their careers: just One More Book.

Advice to myself

I wanted to be published so badly. I could taste it. Or rather, I couldn’t. I couldn’t taste it. I couldn’t even see it. I could imagine it, but I couldn’t see it.

I wanted it more than almost anything in my life at the time and I knew it wasn’t a sure thing, by any stretch. I was the downer in my SCBWI critique group. I was the one that made sure no one forgot that we could all be doing this forever and never make it.

“There’s no guarantee,” I would say, just in case anyone had forgotten. “It’s not like you stand in line until your turn comes up.”

They practically kicked me out.

And I was the one at the NJ SCBWI who spoke up when one of our guest speakers, a NY editor, told his eager audience that we shouldn’t be writing to be published. We should do it just because we love it.

“I doubt you would say that to a room full of men,” I countered. “Would you tell a class of medical students they should just be doing it for the love of being a doctor?”

Nothing to do with my outspokenness (I don’t think) or my negativity but I wouldn’t be published for nine years. Five years of writing adult short fiction and sending it off to The Atlantic and The Paris Review (whatever was I thinking?) and then five more writing for children. I made all sorts of secret promises to the forces that be. One of those bargains with the universe was that if I could only publish one novel I would never ask for anything else. Ever again.

Just one.

Just this one.

Please, let me just publish once.
Then in 2000, I sold my first novel to Little, Brown and for a while I kept my word to myself. I felt completely validated. This was enough. More than enough. Just sitting at my son’s basketball game, high up in the bleachers, completely anonymous, my manuscript bought but a year from publication, I was content within myself. Now I was truly a writer.

Then, the inevitable. I just wanted to be able to write a second book. One more. Just to prove to myself that it wasn’t a fluke. That I wasn’t a fraud and fake. Just a second book. Two published books. Two books, that’s all I ask.

I struggled with that second book, for all the reasons of self-doubt and insecurity I just outlined. And then I met Patricia Reilly Giff who assured me that me the second book is always the hardest. She understood completely and validated my fears. I published my second book in 2003.

It’s 2013. I have ten published novels. Subway Love will be my 11th in May, 2014 and every time, I am terrified. I’m terrified I can never do it again. I will run out of ideas. I’ll be too old. My brain will rot. I won’t sell enough and no one will offer me a contract again. I’ll get such bad reviews no one will want to publish me again. It really was a fluke after all. I am fraud and fake and it’s just a matter of time before everyone figures it out.

Still, I keep writing.

And keep making my deals with the writing gods:

Just keep me in it for the long haul and I won’t ask for anything else.

Just let me keep writing because I love to write.

I find peace when I write. I find meaning in my life. I feel validated and alive. So–

Let me sell, at least well enough, to stay in good favor with my publishers which is something I have no control over. Let me remember what I do have control over: To always be appreciative. Always listen the advice of my agents. Listen the suggestions of my editors because after the shock and ego-busting of seeing all those comments and marks it’s just a process. It’s all in the process.
Always be grateful. Don’t be a pain in the ass. Remember to accept the business of my business and know that the marketing people and the publicity people are doing the best they can. They have many, many titles and the work they do is often not seen or obvious. Thank everyone. This is a privilege not a right. Handle bad reviews graciously. Handle good reviews graciously.

Then I put everything and everyone else out of my head and try, once again, to write the best book I possibly can.

Nora Raleigh Baskin started writing in the 5th grade and never stopped either telling stories or believing in the power of words. In 2010 her novel Anything But Typical won the Schneider Family Book Award along with numerous other honors. Her most recent books, the young adult Surfacing and the middle grade Runt were both published this year, and her next, Subway Love, will be out in 2014.

Previous Writing for the Long Haul Posts

Sean Williams on unpredictability and luck
Deborah J. Ross on writing through crisis
Sharon Shinn on managing time
Marge Pellegrino on feeding the restless yearning to write
Sarah Zettel on embracing ignorance and writing your passions
Uma Krishnaswami on honoring unreasonable exuberance
Jennifer J. Stewart on finding community and support
Sherwood Smith on keeping inspiration alive
Mette Ivie Harrison on defining success
Jeffrey J. Mariotte on why we write
Judith Tarr on reinventing ourselves
Kathi Appelt on the power of story
Cynthia Leitich Smith on balancing business and creativity

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *