“How’s the writing going?” “What are you working on?”
These are the questions I’ve spent the last year-and-a-half awkwardly trying to answer, ever since my novel was published by one of those Big Five publishers. The assumption seemed to be that I’d gotten past all the hurdles that face an unknown author. Now it was just a matter of churning out book after book, which my agent would pass on to my enthusiastic, supportive editor.
I guess it happens that way for some people. But for most of us, one book isn’t the finish line. The hurdles keep coming, and the race really never ends. While I usually answer questions about my next book with vague non-answers (“Still plugging away!”), here are the real reasons I won’t have a book on the shelves at Barnes and Noble anytime soon:
1. I’m stuck. I’ve been working on my next book off and on for years, and it’s still not done. I believe in the central concept, but finding the right voice and structure and timeline has been a struggle, and I can’t explain why. It sounds really lame to say, “I’m still working on that book I told you about two years ago!”, but the truth is I haven’t been working on it 24/7 that whole time. Sometimes the only way to get unstuck is to put the book aside and not think about it for a few weeks. Or months.
2. I’m slow. Sure, I envy mystery-writer friends who get multi-book contracts. But I’d probably have a nervous breakdown if I had to produce a book a year. A single paragraph can take me hours, and sometimes all I have to show for a “productive” day is a single page of text. I’m working on being OK with that.
3. I got an “unlucky” break. The editor I worked with on my first book was an energetic dynamo. After she took me out to lunch in New York, I was officially dazzled. But a few months after my book came out, she quit her job. The person I was so excited to be associated with had moved on. Which meant I’d be essentially starting from scratch when it came to my next book.
4. I’m depressed. We’ve all felt that writing high, when hours pass in a blur and you’re in love with what you’re produced. The opposite, sadly, is also true. The more you struggle to come up with the right sentence (or page or chapter), the more you doubt yourself. And that makes it harder and harder to keep going. The only way out of that abyss is to force yourself to keep going. Which brings me to…
4. I don't have it all figured out. When I'm feeling mopey about my career, the only thing way out is to hit reset: Start another story, just for fun, and see where I end up. I've got a handful of experiments saved in my computer that will probably never see print, but at least they’ve kept me writing. So I guess the honest answer to the "What's next?" question is.... who knows?