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Exclusive Q&A With Author Laurie Alberts

Showing & Telling author Laurie Alberts discusses writing, the publishing industry, writing groups, contests and more. 

What's the one thing you can't live without in your writing life?

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Coffee. That’s only half a joke. A real necessity is what I think of as “time around the time” – what I mean by that is that I can’t just move from my ordinary life – teaching, being a mother, cooking dinner, taking care of my horses – into the alternate reality of creative writing without a space between the demands of normal life and the writing, space in which I can make that transition. That’s why I prefer writing in the morning, before the rest of my life has completely taken over.

What message do you find yourself repeating over and over to writers?

You have to determine your intention for a piece of writing – not necessarily before writing a draft but at least afterward. You must know what you are trying to achieve in order to decide what needs to be developed and what must be cut as you revise.

What are your thoughts on writing groups?

I think they can be enormously helpful as long as they are constructive. They shouldn’t be merely positive; writers need to hear their weaknesses and their strengths. But criticism must be offered in a supportive atmosphere. Years ago I was in a writing group in New York that was quite destructive. Members, many of whom were very successful in other fields, reacted competitively rather than helpfully; their criticism wasn’t aimed at improving the work. That was a disaster. I did, however, have the pleasure of having my first novel accepted by Houghton Mifflin the week after that hostile group informed me that my manuscript wasn’t really a novel. I think trust is essential when people are sharing work they care about deeply.

What piece of advice have you received over the course of your career has had the biggest impact on your success?

You have to write about something you care about passionately. It’s just too hard to spend years on a book without that passion to sustain you.

What's the worst kind of mistake that new writers, freelancers, or book authors can make?

Many writers underestimate or overestimate their chances for success. You need to have enough confidence in your writing to keep going through rejections, an unfriendly review, or whatever unpleasant obstacles might confront you. As a graduate of one MFA program and as a professor in another, I’ve watched very talented writers give up because they can’t take the hard knocks. But you also need to keep a realistic view – one success doesn’t necessarily guarantee the next. Remember, if you rely only on external rewards you may find yourself devastated. Satisfaction must come from the writing process, not just attendant results. Hope for the best but be ready to deal with the rest.

What does a typical day look like for you?

A little family time in the morning with my husband and daughter before he goes off to work and she goes to school – we’re early risers. Then my chores: feeding my three horses, mucking out their shed, cleaning up. Next upstairs to my office to write, followed by teaching obligations. Later, I’ll walk, ride one or more of the horses, or when there’s snow, cross-country ski – outdoor time. I don’t usually write in the afternoons unless I’m on deadline, though I do teaching related work. The late afternoon tends to be for errands, cooking, picking up my daughter or going to her games and track meets. Before dinner I have my evening farm chores. I tend to collapse in the evening– often falling asleep while watching a video or reading.
Although I lived a pretty eventful life as a younger woman – commercial fishing in Alaska, teaching in Russia, etc. – I’m a real homebody now.

If you could change one thing about publishing, what would it be?

I would love to turn back the clock to the days before the individual publishing houses got bought up by corporations and conglomerates. So much of publishing is market rather than quality driven these days and editors move so quickly from one house to another there’s no longer a tradition of cultivating writers if they don’t make big bucks on early books.

In what way (if any) has your writing/publishing life changed in the past 5 years?

I’ve changed from being strictly a novelist to writing memoirs and essays as well.

What advice do you have for writers seeking agents?

1.) Send your work to reputable contests. I’ve been approached by agents after winning contests or even being a finalist.

2.) Be sure to approach agents who represent writers whose work is compatible with yours in some ways. Do a little legwork – find out who represents writers whose work you admire and, if they are taking on new clients, approach them.

3.) Be persistent. It took me more time to find an agent than to sell my first book!

What do you see as your biggest publishing accomplishment?

Selling my first novel. What could be more exciting for any writer, except finishing that first book?

About the Book
Learn more about Laurie Albert's Showing & Telling

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