Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

One year later

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My author's copies

The Icon Thief, my first novel, arrived in stores exactly a year ago today, and like most debut novelists, I had a vague idea that being published would change my life, even if I wasn’t entirely sure how. I was pretty sure that it would feel like a form of validation, a way of proving to myself, if not to others, that the time I’d spent learning to write—with all the opportunity costs it represented—hadn’t been wasted. I was fairly confident that it would allow me to describe myself more comfortably as an author at cocktail parties. I hoped it would give me a chance to connect with other writers and readers—which, as it happened, is true. Above all, I secretly hoped that having a published novel would allow me to relax. The last six years of my life, not to mention most of the previous two decades, had been spent in a state of restless ambition, and I was looking forward to a chance to pause and take satisfaction in what I’d accomplished.

A year later, my life has changed surprisingly little, at least on the professional side. (On a personal level, it has changed in fundamental ways that have little to do with writing.) I still write at least five days a week. My routine has remained largely intact, aside from the inevitable adjustments that a newborn baby requires. This blog still takes up a lot of my time. I’m even working on the same novel I was a year ago—I turned in the latest draft of Eternal Empire to my editor at Penguin only last week. And my inner life is what it always was. I’m still competitive, conscious of my flaws as a writer, and hopeful that the next book will be the one where I finally get everything right. The validation I was hoping to achieve is certainly there, but I should have known better than to think that one novel would be enough. Part of this is simply the natural human tendency to take whatever we have for granted, but there are still times when I look around and marvel at how much is basically the same.

A few of my novels

But the real reason not much has changed has more to do with a choice I made more than six years ago. When I decided to quit my job to write, it was partially because I suspected I’d never finish a novel otherwise, but also because this was the version of my life I wanted to pursue. My physical needs have always been fairly modest, aside from a place to write and a steady supply of new reading material, but what I wanted, more than anything else, was time—time to read, to write, to think at length about what interested me, and to spend as many of my waking hours doing so as possible. Writing, really, is a means to an end, a way for me to structure each day in the way I prefer. Doing so, in the beginning, required a lot of sacrifices and a drastic change of lifestyle; it meant walking a way from a job I liked and accepting a greater degree of uncertainty. If there was a turning point in my life as a writer, it took place long before I ever had a chance at making a living at it.

And if it still feels much the same now, it’s because it’s basically of a piece with the life I decided to make for myself. In the years since, I’ve gotten married, moved to new city, and became a father, but throughout it all, there’s been a strange sense of continuity: the shift in my inner life that began when I decided, once and for all, to really be a writer—rather than spend all my time dreaming about it—has persisted with every change in my outward circumstances. It isn’t a perfect life by any means, but it’s one that I’ve chosen for myself. This isn’t something that being published can validate or determine; it’s the result of the countless small choices and compromises that I’ve had to make to sit at this desk every day. Without it, my novels wouldn’t exist, but they’re less the goal than a part of the fabric. My life hasn’t changed much by being published, but then, it was already more or less where I wanted it to be.

Written by nevalalee

March 6, 2013 at 9:50 am

Posted in Books, Publishing, Writing

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2 Responses

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  1. So a question, if you don’t mind, in two parts: 1. How much time do you allot yourself to write each day (morning?) and 2. When you’re writing a book and blogging, how much time do you allot for each? (And many pardons if you’ve already covered this on the blog somewhere.)


    March 6, 2013 at 10:12 am

  2. Great question—and oddly enough, one that I don’t think I’ve covered yet. I tend to write for about six hours every weekday, usually from eleven to six, with a break for lunch. Writing up each day’s blog post takes an additional hour or so. (I used to work on the blog every morning, but now that I have a baby in the house, I tend to write posts the night before and schedule them for the following day.)


    March 6, 2013 at 5:39 pm

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