Alger really began to gain recognition as a songwriter with the release of Nanci Griffith's third album, Once in a Very Blue Moon, in 1985. Alger co-wrote the title song, which reached the country charts in 1986. He was also heard from on Griffith's fourth album, The Last of the True Believers, in 1986, for which he co-wrote the song "Goin' Gone." (He also played guitar on the album and did its graphics.) Alger was co-author of the title song on Griffith's 1987 album, Lone Star State of Mind, and that song became a Top 40 country hit. In 1988, Kathy Mattea's version of "Goin' Gone" hit the top of the country charts. In 1990, Mattea took Alger and Fred Koller's "She Came from Fort Worth" to number two.
Alger came to record his debut album, True Love & Other Short Stories, in 1991, he was able to call on the help of the cream of the young Nashville writers and performers. Trisha Yearwood, Nanci Griffith, Mary Black, Ashley Cleveland, Kathy Mattea, and Lyle Lovett all turn up, though Alger himself is the focus, singing his best-known songs. "No one sings or plays Pat Alger like Pat Alger himself," Griffith writes.