Sunday, October 09, 2011

Seconds, anyone?

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.


Carla Swafford said...

I understand completely. That's exactly what I'm going through now. Inside, I think this book is even better than the first one that's coming out 10/18 (heehee), but will my editor feel the same way?

Thankfully it helped that she asked for the first chapter so it can be placed at the end of the first book. So she's seen the direction I'm going and she even said, "Wow!" And that's a WOW as in a good thing. LOL!

You know that helps but she's got to feel WOW about all of it. So I'm treating this one like I do all of my books and writing what I love to read and hoping and praying that I have it right.

Lisa Dunick said...

Hilarious! And if you have any secrets to *how* you convince spouse and children that the dishwasher is, in fact, safe and *gasp!* useful, you could write it up and have a best-seller on your hands :O)

Suzanne Johnson said...

Great advice, Lexi! Mine's more Trifecta Trauma than Sophomore Slump since the first two books were bought already written. So I'm now writing one to deadline for the first time. It's...interesting. LOL. Your advice is spot-on.

Cari Hislop said...

A lovely post! I can seriously see myself ending up in a coffin trying to meet a publisher's deadline. I self-publish so I normally just take as long as I want to take, but I worked to a self-ordained deadline on my last book and that was bad. It took me six months to recover. I felt mentally broken, but the book turned out really well! I'm down to the last few chapters of my latest book - three years in the writing. I hope it's as funny as I think it is and I'm not just delusional from trying to talk down that evil critic always nagging my inner ear!

Lexi said...

Sorry I've been MIA. Church and then I've been on Mom duty with the teenager.

Carla, you have the right idea, IMO, and that is write what you love and what you want to read. Oddly, as much as I hairballed over book 2, I think it's a better book in some ways than the first. I shall have to wait and see!

Lexi said...

Lisa, my husband is still in doubt, and we have similar issues with the kitchen garbage. Someone must have told him about the garbage troll, dang it!

Lexi said...

Suzanne, I think it's the deadline that triggers all the anxiety. It's different writing under one, that's for sure! Congrats on selling 2 at once and good luck with the third!

Lexi said...

Cari, I think your evil critic and my antimuse must be besties. We need to round those two up and send them to Siberia!

Louisa Cornell said...

Great post, Lexi.

And some great advice about keeping negative thoughts out of your head. That is something writers need to do whether writing to deadline or not and it can be so difficult to do.

Here's to all of us being writing sophmores just ONCE !! No repeating a grade, okay??

Lexi said...

Here, here, Louisa! You are so right. The anti muse does not discriminate! She will strike whenever and wherever she can!

Rashda Khan said...

OMG,this is exactly what I have been going through.

Part of the problem is that the second story is sooo different from the first (coming out Nov. 1, yay!)that I'm totally nervous about whether my editor will like it or not.

But I did finish it and turned it over to my agent and my beta readers. I hope to soon fine tune it and make it the best I can. Then send it on :)

Loved your point about breaking & entering! Lol!

Rashda Khan said...

BTW Rashda is also Mina :D

Thanks so much for visiting my post on djinns today!

Lexi said...

Rashda, I had exactly the same problem with my book 2! Different hero and heroine, different story. It's like being the new kid in school, over and over again.

Chris said...

This is great to know, I am still in awe of anyone that can actually do this, I have the stories in my head but putting them on paper is simply not within my grasp right now.

Lexi said...

It's there, Chris. Maybe you haven't found the right match for your voice, or the right venue for it. Don't give up!