On Thursday, Luke put up an honest, heartfelt post about the realities of being a writer (please go read it right now—all the way to the end!). There are often many years spent waiting—writing, revising, submitting, revising again, submitting again, writing something new, repeat—the quiet, largely unrecognized work behind the scenes. We long for that golden ticket, that recognition, that validation that will make all of that effort worth it.
Then, finally, success: we’re published! We think our new status will make things easier for us somehow, like we discovered the secret formula and can just apply it over and over whenever we need to produce a publishable manuscript. In some ways it does: people do take you more seriously when you’re published. But in many other ways, it actually makes things harder.
I’ve seen writers with a successful first book struggle with the second, fearful that it won’t live up to their previous work. Others want to write something completely different, but feel pigeon-holed in a single genre. An unlucky few are so stung by negative reviews that they have a hard time putting themselves out there for more. Still others spend so much time promoting the first book that they simply don’t have time to write another one!
My challenge was similar to Luke’s: It’s so exciting to check on the status of your book, so compelling to want to nudge it out into the world a bit more, so easy to pop in and do quick, light promotion. And there’s always more you can be doing pre- or post-launch to get the word out. You’re constantly wondering what else you should be doing, who else you should be talking to. It’s easy to completely lose yourself in the world of that first book.
It’s not so much that you don’t have time to write anymore. You really don’t have to do all of those things. It’s more that all of the checking, nudging, and promoting feels necessary. It seems important. In fact, it feels like a betrayal of your first book—and, heaven forbid, of that first publisher who took a chance on you and made all of your big dreams come true!—to do anything less. It’s exceedingly difficult to switch gears and go back to the waiting; back to the quiet, largely unrecognized work behind the scenes; back to the writing.
This was actually one of the scariest and hardest parts of the whole journey for me. For months after Be a Changemaker came out, I worried that I’d never be able to write again, never be able to get myself back into that mindset, back to the focus and discipline needed to dive into writing something new. It was part of the process that I wasn’t at all expecting, and it took me completely off guard. Fortunately, I had other author friends (mostly Emus!) to discuss it with. They all said things like, “Yep, the same thing happened to me. Don’t worry, you’ll figure it out.”
And, you know what? I did. I’m back to writing, and I’m loving it. I still do promotion, and I’m loving that, too. But, I’m finally starting to find my balance, discovering ways to foster the creative beginning of the process with one project while at the same time managing the more analytical business end of the process on another.
As I told the kids at the school visit I did last Friday: “Writers write. Period.” And, eventually, we discover that the writing itself is what makes it all worth it. We realize that we can’t NOT write. And we get back to work.
Laurie Ann Thompson’s debut young-adult nonfiction, BE A CHANGEMAKER: HOW TO START SOMETHING THAT MATTERS, was published by Beyond Words/Simon Pulse in September, 2014. Her debut nonfiction picture book, EMMANUEL’S DREAM, was published by Schwartz & Wade/Penguin Random House in January 2015. MY DOG IS THE BEST, her debut fiction picture book, will be available June 9, 2015, from Farrar, Straus, & Giroux/Macmillan. Maybe then they’ll finally force her to retire from Emu’s Debuts, unless…