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OWC: The Dreaded Sophomore Slump

Okay, people. It’s about to get real. My second Tuesday post of every month is going to to focus on some of the not great stuff about writing. Not because there’s a lot of bad stuff to say about the industry, but because, when I started writing, I thought an agent meant everything was going to go smoothly. When I got a book contract, I thought nothing could go wrong. When my first publisher closed, I thought my dream was dead. When I signed with my second house, I thought, “Hey. This must be how Fawkes feels when he rises from the ashes.” My point is that I thought each milestone meant that the road would get easier. And, in some ways, it did. A lot easier. And in other ways, it stayed the same. And, in a few instances, writing got harder.

So I’m going to tell you the truth from my POV about some of the challenges of writing post publication. None of these challenges are insurmountable. Quite the opposite, but I long ago stopped thinking that I was the only one going through rough patches in the writing world. So if my stories help you take a deep breath and keep writing, you can show your appreciation by making me a dead body in your next story.

My debut came out in late 2015. And one of the most popular questions is when my next book is going to come out. The vague answer is, “I don’t know.”

The truth is, I don’t have a next book. Not yet. I mean, I have several partials, some proposals, and a dozen ideas but as for a contractual offer? Nada.

And after more than a year since my release and having watched (and celebrated from the bottom of my heart) the success of so many of my fellow Fearless Fifteeners, I must confess that I have entered into the sophomore slump.

The sophomore slump, as defined by me, is when you know there’s going to be a second book but you just can’t quite get it right. Either the story isn’t yours to tell, the voice is all wrong, you forget your own advice and start writing to a trend, or you just decide binge watching Supergirl is better for your soul than agonizing to make your NaNo word count. Or, you know… something like that.

There is pressure to make your second book better than your first. And there should be. No matter how big we get, as writers, we should always be striving to get better. But sometimes, when you internalize that pressure and set unreal expectations on yourself, the attempt to motivate yourself has the opposite response. It shuts you down.

And just to be clear, this isn’t some pity post where I want you to feel sorry for me. I have a pretty could handle on the reasons why I’m a bit behind on the publishing road than some of those I started with. First, I was trying to balance a writing career, a library career, and homeschool the kidlets. Second, I spent a lot of time on the marketing for IAWD. Third, I spent a lot of time online stalking everyone else’s deals. And finally, my biological father passed away this summer and there was stuff.

Then there’s the part where I didn’t have to write another book. When I signed my contract, it was a one book deal with an option. I fulfilled my option earlier this year with a book that wasn’t right for the current market and times. I sorta knew it would probably get turned down, but I also REALLY wanted to write the story. (In hind sight, I’m SO glad it was turned down.)

For a long time, I looked at this as a rejection. That I wasn’t good enough. That I didn’t deserve a shot at a second book. That I had lost my mojo.

But here’s the bottom line. The second book is just like the first book. You start with page one and you end with the end. Are you a better writer after your debut? Heck yeah you are. But where ever there is a crack in your literary artist armor, doubt, fear, and a healthy amount of self-loathing can sneak in, tearing at the fibers of your creative confidence. It’s okay.

It’s okay to take a little longer to get that second book out. It’s okay to start a novel and realize it’s all wrong. Because in the end, you are a storyteller who’s still looking for the perfect story to tell. And once you find it, well… I’m pretty sure there will be sparks coming off your keyboard. So hang in there, take a deep breath and for everything that is holy (and some things that aren’t), keep writing. And wave to me when you see me in the trenches. Because 2017 is the year I ditch the sophomore slump for good.

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