I always thought my problems would be solved the moment I had an agent and my manuscript sold to a publisher. I thought that once you were published the negative voice in the back of your brain vanished forever. Ha! Yeah. Not so much. The voice that tells you you suck merely acquires a new script. You’re not a real writer because you’ve only one book in print. You’re not a real writer because your book didn’t sell enough copies. You’re not a real writer because you haven’t won an award. You’re not a real writer because… well, you get the point. But you know what? Dealing with that negative voice, blowing it off, and still writing — that is being a real writer. It’s having to cope with all the doubts and all the things which you’ll never have control over. (Like how many people buy your work.) It’s not easy, but every job has its downside. That’s why you have to love writing with every fiber of your being. Because it’s just not worth the heartache, otherwise.
With the first book, you’ve all the time in the world. I had three years to do all the research I needed to write Of Blood and Honey. When it came time to write And Blue Skies from Pain frankly, I panicked. The pressure to get everything as correct as I could get it had become too much. I didn’t know if I could finish the second book. I cried all over my agent’s t-shirt at the retreat last summer. He told me it was going to be fine and that I really did have all the information I needed. It took an expert on Northern Irish politics, Nicholas Whyte, to make me understand that for sure. (Thank you, Nicholas!) My agent was sooo right. Of course that wasn’t the only stress. There was that awful internal critic. It was chanting, “The second book won’t be as good. No one will like it. You’ll never write anything as good as the first.” (Thank goodness that turned out to be not true.) My goal has always been to improve as a writer over time. There’s so much to learn! There is no way anyone can know everything about writing, and now I feel I can grow. That first book isn’t everything.
Honestly, all this pressure and stress is normal. It’s why being a new writer is so difficult and also so hard for outside people to understand. The second book is where you find out if you can really hack it as a professional. The first… well… I wouldn’t call it a fluke, myself. You work too damned hard and bleed too damned much to call it that. It’s more than mere luck — far more. Sure, luck is a factor, but you made that luck with your bare hands and others helped — many others. But the second book is where the training wheels come off the bike. There’s a risk of falling over and skinning your knees or cracking open your head. There’s always that risk that you’ll have to put the training wheels back on too, but there’s also a chance you’ll ride down that road in no time with your hands in the air, laughing. You never know until you try.