There is a thing that happens to writers after they get published. I won’t call it a phenomenon, because I’ve heard too many writers say they’ve met this beastie face to face. I’m talking about ‘sophomore book syndrome.’
Since most writers have written several books by the time they get published, the term is misleading. It refers to the second book after publication, and it is very real.
I know, because it happened to me.
There are a number of things, I think, responsible for this dreaded affliction. When you’re writing the book that FINALLY gets published, you’re not under a deadline. It’s your passion, your joy, your frustrating and exhilarating obsession, but you’re on your own time. The only pressure to perform, to create, is the pressure you put on yourself and the insistence of the voices in your head.
After you get The Call and you’re under contract, you’re on THEIR time. And, if you’re like me, you have a day job, a family, a messy house, flowerbeds full of weeds, piles of laundry to wash, dry, fold and put away, groceries to buy and meals to cook—teenagers, for some reason, insist on being fed—church obligations, social obligations. The list goes on and on.
Don't get me wrong, there’s nothing like The Call. For the first few weeks, you walk around in a daze, grinning like a jackass eating briars, thrilled and humbled by your good fortune. You pinch yourself until you’re black and blue, because your dream is coming true.
Then you realize you have to do it again, and that’s when it starts.
What if it was a fluke? What if you can’t do it again? What if your publisher HATES book two? This is my personal favorite and the anti muse that screamed loudest in my head, because I knew going in that book two would be different from book one.
What if the readers hate it and it sucks so bad the publisher yanks your contract, brands you with a big LOSER stamp, and tosses you back in the slush pile?
My publisher has been very generous with me time-wise. I cannot play the ‘I didn’t have time’ card. But, I am a slow writer, and that added to my anxiety.
I made my deadline, thank goodness, but I landed myself in the hospital in the process. Wore myself slap out with worry and pressure, and self doubt.
So, how do you avoid sophomore book syndrome? You don’t. It’s like a cold. Some writers will get it and some lucky ones won’t. And it doesn’t necessarily end with the second book. It can strike at any time, whether it be your second book or your twenty-second.
If you do succumb, take deep breaths. Every time a negative thought creeps into your head, push it away and replace it with something positive. You CAN write. You WON’T fail. The book WILL be good.
Avoid, whenever possible, negative people and situations. They will drain you and shut you down. If you can’t write at home, go somewhere else. Retreat to your local library or your church, or the nearest Starbucks. Hide out in your office on the weekend or hang out at a friend’s house while they're on vacation. With their permission, of course. Otherwise, it's called breaking and entering.
Be good to yourself. Surround yourself with creative friends, especially other writers. Put on your shoes and take a walk. Exercise will clear your head, energize you, and lower your soaring cortisol levels. Read a good book or go see a movie. It will get your creative juices flowing and refuel your muse.
Give yourself permission to let some things slide, like the dust bunnies or the overflowing closet. You are allowed to be selfish, if only a few hours of the day. Bach had 20 children and two wives. How much would he have accomplished if he’d had to change all those diapers?
Reacquaint yourself with your crockpot, and explain to the spouse and kids that the dishwasher is not a portal to another dimension. They can unload it without danger of being sucked into an abyss.
Really. My husband lived in terror until I explained this to him.
Write, write, write. Keep moving forward. Even if you’re certain that every word is crap, get something on paper. You can’t revise an empty page.
Most of all, try to remember the joy and the creative urge that lead you to write in the first place. There’s a reason you’re a writer. You’ve got a story to tell.
So tell it.