At my writing group the other night, someone asked how I was feeling about the success of Salt Magic Skin Magic and I spouted a whole lot of weird stuff and nearly burst into tears.
Yes, friends, this has been a very strange time for me.
I’ve read hundreds of posts on dealing with rejection, on keeping on writing in the face of indifference or negativity. But what about if your book gets good reviews and sells better than you expected? What then? Well, that’s just great, isn’t it? You’re just happy, aren’t you? You’ve achieved a life goal. Boy, your confidence in your writing ability must be soaring, right? I bet you’re writing up a storm!
Er…well…actually I’ve barely written a word all year.
I don’t mean to seem ungrateful. I keep thinking of all those writers (i.e. me, last year) who would kill for that good review or those sales. I am happy and grateful, I really am. I am delighted that people liked my book. I am over-joyed to have had good reviews. I am amazed that literary agents and audiobook companies are coming calling. And, most of all, I am charmed that some generous readers would get in touch to tell me how much they loved my story. You’ve no idea how wonderful that is.
I’d wanted to publish a book since I was old enough to read. You know all those times kids are told to make a wish? All those shooting stars and birthday candles? I always wished to be a writer. I thought writers were magicians—creating worlds that come alive. I wanted that magic so badly.
Well, the wishes caught up with me. To an established author, I’m sure the level of success I’ve achieved with Salt Magic Skin Magic is pretty tame, but I think as unpublished writers we get so used to hearing ‘don’t expect anyone to take any notice of you’ that all this attention astonished me.
And, perverse creature that I am, my confidence in my ability as a writer has plummeted.
Yes, I’m afflicted with ‘difficult second novel’ syndrome, even though it’s a book late. I’m scared Salt Magic Skin Magic was a fluke. I’m scared my next book will disappoint people. I’ll mess up in some stupid way. I’ll misjudge a scene. I’ll use the wrong word. The whole thing will fall flat.
I’ve become hyper-critical of all my ideas. Everything seems stupid or questionable or maybe offensive or, at best, unoriginal. I don’t know where I go from here. If I’ve lost faith in my ability to judge my ideas, how can I know which ones to keep and which to discard? It is helpful discussing them with other people, but even if they say the ideas are good, I’m the one who has to believe in them, and if I don’t feel the spark of glee, the divine ‘yes, yes, yes!’ then how can I write a whole book based on them? I’m not talking about inspiration here. I know waiting for that is bollocks. I’m talking about the lasting joy in an idea that enables a writer to get through the hard work of actually writing the damn book.
I’ve taken breaks. I’ve taken walks. I’ve considered giving up writing altogether. I’ve tried writing for my own pleasure. I still have no idea if I can write another book that’ll be good enough to show people.
When I started this ‘writing seriously for publication’ journey in 2015 I managed to vanquish my demons of self-doubt with the magic words ‘it’s all just an experiment’.
Make the salt circle. Get out the wand and charge the amulet. It’s time to say the magic words again.
And hope like hell they still have power in them.