Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tough Act To Follow

I'm sure it's happened to every writer (and probably most singers, actors, and other artists) at some point.

The bolt of inspiration strikes, as it so rarely does for most of us (this job is roughly 97% perspiration and 3% inspiration), you sit down, you work hard, you give up your sleep and your soul for a good couple of months (or more) ... and you create something you're really, really proud of. Something that justifies your entire decision to go into such an impractical field, despite all the friends, relatives, and career  counselors who warned you about the high probability of sleeping in a shoe box. Something that, if you could only get people to notice it, you're convinced could be really, truly great.

And then what?

Once you've published the book, finished the blog tour or the book tour, made the NYTimes or Amazon best seller list (or, in the case of a lot of us indies, really, really NOT made said lists), once the euphoria has died down, you return home ... and realize you have to write the next thing.

This is the point at which the giddy, light-headed feeling gives way to a sick, anxious, cowering-under-the-bed feeling. Because how the hell are you going to do that? The little perfectionist in the back of your brain knows, just knows, that everyone is going to expect it of you now, no one is going to be satisfied with anything of lesser quality to the Awesome that you just did. You're sure that unless you hit it out of the park, you're going to fall on your face in front of your entire audience. And that is the most terrifying prospect imaginable, no matter how large or small your audience is.

That's where I am right now.

I truly believe that Atticus for the Undead was one of the high watermarks of my creative career -- one of the best and cleverest stories I've ever told (and I've been telling stories a lot longer than I've been writing novels). But it's done now, and now I'm turning my attention to The Void. The trouble is that the little perfectionist in me won't shut up.

Don't get me wrong, I'm absolutely confident that The Void will be a good book. With a little help from my trusty beta readers, it can probably be a great book. But can it equal Atticus in quality?

The perfectionist isn't so sure. The perfectionist thinks I'm out of good pitches.

Of course, if I listened to the perfectionist, I never would have started self-publishing to begin with. Every writer knows that a major part of writing is eventually, at some point, deciding that your work is good enough and telling that little voice to go shove it. But in the meantime, it can make life damn frustrating.

This post doesn't have a tidy ending, because I haven't yet effectively told the perfectionist to shut up. So, now that I've once again used way too many parentheses in a blog post, I'll throw it open to my writer friends (and others): Do you know the feeling?


  1. I feel like this all the time. I'm in the middle of writing my second zombie book (series) and I worry it's not as good as the first. Doubt sits on my shoulder and whispers mean things in my ear EVERYDAY.

    I also worry because I normally write YA contemporary novels. I have 3 written (but need editing). How will those books fair with my zombie books? Will people hate them? Do I have to write about zombies for the rest of my life? what if I can't?

    I think we all go through this. We have to push past it and keep writing the stories that come to mind. Someone, somewhere will love them. If not, well, then we write another and so on.

    Push through. You can do it.

  2. Having other writers tell me I'm not alone (even though, logically, I already knew it) helps.

    It seemed like something we probably all feel, so I figured it might be good to put into words.

  3. Maybe I'm lucky in that I don't think I've ever written anything terribly brilliant. :P I still feel like I'm learning and improving as a writer. Maybe when I have ten books under my belt, I'll feel differently, but not yet.

    Also, I'm usually sick of a book by the time it goes out, so I'm ready for the next project. That probably doesn't help you. Sorry!

  4. John, you're seasoned now. So keep cookin'. ;) Perfectionism is the antithesis of jazz. So sayeth this Zen Mistress. You've got a lot of good stories in you, I'll bet.