The Book that Changed My Life by Guest Author Allison Winn Scotch

We are very pleased to have Allison Winn Scotch, a friend of the Debs, as our guest author today. Her second book Time of My Life hit the New York Times bestseller list.

Hi Debs! Thank you for having me here! I’m psyched to chime in today!

Okay, so, we’re discussing the book that changed me life, and, well, I have a weird one. I have read lots and lots of books that resonated and made an impact, for sure, but as far as a book that literally changed my life? Well, it’s a book that I wrote, and a book that you’ll never, ever read because looking back, it’s so, so bad. But that doesn’t mean that writing it wasn’t well worth it. Here’s why:

About five or six years ago, I wanted to branch out into fiction from magazine writing. I felt that itch that novelists (and aspiring novelists) often feel and sat down and banged out about half of a novel. And then I got stuck. Very, very stuck. Probably because up until halfway through the novel, the events somewhat mirrored my life, and once I reached the point where, um, I had to actually make the stuff up, I felt paralyzed! Sooo…about a year or two later, I was determined to finish that sucker, and thus, I put my head down, wrote the second half, and voila, did I think the book was perfection! I had basically scored and cast the movie (not to mention written my Oscar acceptance speech) when I started shopping around for an agent. And land an agent, I did. Only she couldn’t sell the book. She came close, but in the end, a close sale isn’t a sale at all, and that was that with this (genius! Or so I thought) manuscript.

Now. How did this experience, this book change my life? In a couple of ways. For one, it proved to me that I could finish a novel. Starting a novel is easy. Finishing it is not. But I had the stamina to do it, and this meant a lot to me, as I knew that I wanted to keep writing fiction. For two, the book was a master class in many, many things that you shouldn’t do while writing a book. I learned about exposition. I learned about showing, not telling. I learned about creating conflict for your characters, about how important it is to make your heroine likeable. These were all things that, to be honest, as I banged out on my computer, I hadn’t really thought about. I just wrote. And wrote and wrote. And while the sum of it equaled 300 pages, many of those pages were not very good. More ways it changed my life? My agent grew lukewarm on me, thanks to the non-sale. And I faced a very scary decision of leaving her and finding someone new, or sticking with an agent who maybe didn’t believe in me. It was probably the toughest professional decision I’ve ever had to make. And, not to toot my own horn, but I felt like it took some guts when I ultimately walked away and landed with someone who truly was (and continues to be) my ally. So having had this experience taught me to trust myself, to listen to my instincts and not to let fear rule my decisions. I walked away, and my new agent sold a new manuscript that my old agent had said (and I quote) that, “Taking this out will do more harm than good for your career.” Not only did she sell it, she sold it at a four-way auction and the book was published in 2007 as my debut novel, The Department of Lost and Found.

How else did this book change my life? It showed me that failure isn’t always a failure. Yes, my book hadn’t sold, and yes, it was devastating. But what could I learn from it? What could I take from that experience and make myself a better writer? Asking myself these questions helped me land where I am today – working on my third novel after my second one hit the NY Times Bestseller list. It also taught me that sometimes, failure is for the best. These days, I thank my lucky stars that this manuscript hadn’t sold. It wasn’t my best work…it was terrible, in fact! But I look back on it with fondness because I know, oh do I know, how it helped me become the writer who I am now.

13 Replies to “The Book that Changed My Life by Guest Author Allison Winn Scotch”

  1. Brava, Allison! I’m glad things happened exactly as they did because look where you are now! We should do a topic for the Debs on “our novels/writing in the drawer” because I, too, have a terrible first novel although I never showed it to anyone. I realized it’s terribleness (terribility?) on my own and never submitted it anywhere and in fact never even showed it to my spouse, who has seen everything else.

    Your story is also another lesson in “trust your gut.” Always, trust your gut.

  2. Welcome back to The Ball, Allison! And what a great story. There really is no such thing as failure – just detours and bumps in the road. Your story is a great lesson in learning from your”mistakes” and keeping on down the road! Congratulations on all of it! And I can’t wait to read your latest book.

  3. Thanks for being our guest today, Allison! When anyone tells me that they’ve just finished their first book, I say “Great! Start the next one!” Inevitably it’s the second book that sells because we learn so much from the first one. Thanks for sharing your experiences, and kudos for making the bestseller list.

  4. Hi Allison! Wait, did we write the same first novel? It sure sounds like it. This sequence of events also happened to me, more or less in the exact order. I love your point about failure not always being failure. I don’t know anyone successful who hasn’t bombed on at least one or two endeavors in their lives. Anyway, good luck with everything, and thanks for being our guest! Best wishes.

  5. I love the idea of learning from things that didn’t go exactly as planned, instead of shrinking from them. A completed manuscript is an achievement in itself, and you showed a ton of courage by walking away from someone who didn’t believe in you 100%.

    Congratulations on your success. I hope you’re savoring every minute of it!

    And thank you for being our guest!

  6. “Starting a novel is easy. Finishing it is not.” How true! It’s great to have you back, Allison, and so thrilling to follow all your successes. Be proud – you’ve earned it! Thanks,too, for always making yourself available to aspiring writers – your blog is a godsend and I send all my students there.

    Happy holidays!

  7. I think I am a “writer groupie”. So long as I don’t “stalk you”, you are safe…not you Eve, I will always be your mother (which means mental stalking). Anyway, I so enjoy this blog. And I enjoy all the “female creative energy and humor, oh the humor. Thanks Ladies of the Pen.

  8. Of all days to be late to the Ball. Allison and her blog were an introduction to the writers I’ve been fortunate to come to know, including Kristy and the Founding Debs. And, though Allison had to bow out of the Class of 2007, success on her own was inevitable after that first “failure.” Smart, savvy and determined, her energy can reach out and hook any reader. Is my pride showing yet?

  9. Ahh, Allison, how nice to see you back, and coming to the Ball with great news is always great fun. Congratulations, and yes, I also have that first terrible book. My husband threatens to sell it on e-Bay regularly, but I’m quite sure nobody there would buy it either 😀

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