The Angst of a Diseased Author

Some comment in some post on somebody’s blog jinxed me. I don’t remember anything about it other than the commenter said many authors release only one book. He said they suffer from “second-book-itis.” I asked him to define it, but he never did.

He doesn’t have to. I’ve discovered for myself what it is. I’m struggling against it, fighting with everything in me to ward it off.

But it’s evil disease-spreading claws are just inches from my skin.

Symptoms include:

1. Panic, which often is caused by learning the craft. The more I learn about writing, the harder it is for me to write. I’ve become more discriminating in what I consider “good,” and am particularly vicious when critiquing my own efforts. I wonder when people are going to realize I’m a fraud. That’s when panic sets in. It’s only a matter of time before the entire reading and writing world shakes its accusing cyberfinger at me and shouts, “Fraud! Pretender!”

I have to remind myself daily that my WIP is ” just a first draft. It’s gonna be trash.” I struggle every day to “just get it written!” It doesn’t help when my suspicion that it’s trash is verified upon the re-read. I ripped out a chunk from the manuscript last week and spent a day in mourning over the loss of my writing abilities.

2. Fear, which can take on several forms at once.Β  I described the first fear in #1. Folks are going to find out I’m a fraud. That’s the worst fear. Others are similar, and feed the fear that I’m a fraud: (a) Fear that I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to finish my WIP, or give up on it entirely (you don’t know how close I’ve come), (b) fear that I won’t come up with another valid idea for a good novel, (c) fear that I’ve locked myself into a genre so specific that I’ll lose readers if I shift to another.

3. Loathing, which can be directed at a variety of people and things. Currently, I’m ticked at the guy who introduced me to the term “second-book-itis” because, as I said, he jinxed me. More often than not, I hate whatever I’m working on (going back to #1). Then, there’s self-loathing (aka “self-hatred”). This is a biggie so common Harlan Coben mentioned it in the January 2011 issue of Writer’s Digest. This is a natural reaction that goes hand in hand with the panic and fear. According to Harlan, the best thing to do with it is to use it, which sounds great. It does provide some pretty strong emotions, the bulk of which can turn my romantic comedies into dark tragedies in a heartbeat.

Loathing can be directed at activities, too. Right now, at the top of my list, are cyber marketing and promotion. I can’t get the hang of them. I can’t tell that anything I’m doing is affecting sales. I’m inundated with a variety of how-to books and blogs and entrepreneurs offering to do it for me at a price I’m getting more tempted to pay.

Right about now, my writing partner is pointing a finger at me, saying, “Aha! See? I told you!” (We’re working on a thriller together, which I’ll have to publish under a pseudonym because I’ve locked myself into a genre so specific I’ll lose readers if I shift to another). He’s pretty well convinced that cybermarketing doesn’t do diddly, and I’m pretty well convinced I wouldn’t have had sales in California and Washington State without it. But I stink at it.

Back to the second-book-itis, the fact that I stink at marketing makes me wonder whether having a second book out will make it easier or harder. I knew when I started that Give the Lady a Ride was my intro into the world. Knew not to expect miracles of Shack proportions. I have to keep reminding myself that this is the road most of us take over a landscape of bipolar peaks and valleys.

There are two cures for second-book-itis: One is to give in to it and give up on writing and everything associated with it. This cure is the easiest, because it takes the pressure off. Write only what you want, when you want, and don’t worry if it’s crap. Don’t fret over getting it “out there.”

The other is to keep plugging. Write only what you want, when you want, and don’t worry if it’s crap. Don’t fret over getting it “out there.” Get it written and worry about the rest when you arrive at that bend in the road.

Many authors go through this, whether it’s their second book or their seventy-second. Maybe all authors suffer from it periodically and just don’t admit it.

As for me, I spend every morning giving myself a pep talk as I do my cybermarketing, every afternoon writing my piece of trash WIP, and every evening threatening to yank myself out of cyberspace. Sometimes I have really good days, and the cycle is broken.

Maybe you can tell, I haven’t had one of those days recently.

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Personal, Promotion/Publicity/Marketing, Writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to The Angst of a Diseased Author

  1. philangelus says:

    Either Jessica Faust or Kristin Nelson blogged about second-book-itis a while back, and she said it happens predictably enough that she builds in a cushion for her own writers. She seems to think planning and good beta-readers are the key.

    In “The Forest For THe Trees,” Betsy Lerner talks about how after finishing a novel, EVERY writer endures a certain amount of panic that they’ll never be able to do it again. That every time, we are in effect starting anew. We will NEVER be able to do it again, NEVER reach that kind of creativity, etc. And it’s probably not every writer, but if she’s dealt with hundreds and can believe it’s every writer, then it has to be most of us.

    We don’t know where the writing comes from. It’s not pure craft (like, say, knitting. If you know how to knit and purl, you can make a scarf on autopilot.) It’s also not pure art. There’s a lot that needs to go into writing and a lot that can make it not work, and because we don’t know all the ingredients we’re using when it’s going well, we can’t re-create the recipe and be sure we can always make it happen again. Moreover, because we’re always changing as people, our ideal recipe will keep changing too so the produce we’re putting out keeps being a little different from what we did before.

    So it’s okay. Don’t be afraid of startitis or second-book-itis. It’s the way writers keep growing. Without that fear, we’d probably get complacent, and once we hit complacency we’d stop growing.



    • Linda Yezak says:

      Thanks for the comment and the encouragement. It’s nice to hear I’m not an isolated case. I have to get Betsy’s book.

      I took a peek at your blog, and found a new favorite. Most of my friends are snarky to some degree, and you’d fit right in. πŸ™‚


  2. Totally feel your pain. I think the problem is exacerbated when you’re writing your second book after having your first book published. Suddenly, the pressure to measure up to that first book is most definitely on. I hate writing to an audience. It always ends up making me twist myself into corkscrews trying to fit into what I perceive as other people’s boxes for my work. I have to keep wiping my mental slate clean and focusing on the story and nothing but the story. Sometimes I have to talk myself into believing that no one but me will ever read it.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      “the problem is exacerbated when you’re writing your second book after having your first book published.”

      I should’ve included a comment about this in the text. Right now, I’m seeing several friends getting contracts on their second books or having their second books published on the heels of the first. Sigh. Professional jealousy adds to the pressure.

      Thanks, Katie.


  3. Lisa Grace says:

    Lol, you worry too much! You know you are gifted writer and know the “craft” and the “mechanics” of writing a great story. Loosen up and enjoy the process.
    In the several writing conferences I’ve attended now, I’ve run into another problem with authors. Works where every sentence is so beautifully crafted, you don’t care for the characters, and for the life of you, can’t get into the plot. You can’t see the forest, literally, for each tree must be admired.

    I want to lose myself in characters, I like, in a life I’ve never lived. If i want to see a tree, I’ll go to the park!


    • Linda Yezak says:

      Thanks for the vote of confidence. You’re probably right that I worry too much. You’re right, I should loosen up and enjoy the process.

      You’ll love the characters in Cat Lady if I can ever it it finished. Currently, that’s a big if.


  4. I do believe all artists, including authors go through this: artists of fine art, songwriters, play writers, performers – it seems to be part of human nature. Solution? All the above comments had great suggestions. I haven’t been under any pressure as far writing since I have yet to complete a manuscript, but when I was doing commissioned art work, I worried and stressed, tied myself into knots. I eventually worked out of it, doing as Katie suggested, forgetting about anyone but me seeing it. I am praying this passes soon, your marketing strategies suddenly take off, and your fingers just fly over the keyboard.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      Thanks for the prayers, Cece. I hope you finish your manuscript. There’s nothing more thrilling than having that finished ms in your hands–unless it’s having the published book in your hands!


  5. bethkvogt says:

    Yeah, well, I’m in the midst of edits for my first novel & enduring second-book-itis. The summer is not the best time to come down with this malady, either. It’s a pretty unforgiving season to write. And then throw in a wedding (my daughter’s) and an unending bout of vertigo (or so it seems) …
    I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to turn this comment into a whine.
    Maybe I’ll go journal about frustration and then use it when I write a scene for that second book . . .


    • Linda Yezak says:

      Congrats on your daughter’s wedding, and so sorry about the vertigo and second-book-itis. Don’t worry about whining over here–misery loves company! πŸ˜€

      Eventually, this too shall pass. We’ll be all right!


  6. This is similar to what I’d heard:

    1. The first book contract might just be a fluke.
    2. You only get a second book contract because you sold the first book
    3. The third one is the publisher taking one last chance on you.
    4. Well, the publisher has already invested in you so they might as well go one more time.
    5. ??? uh…not sure what this means.

    I’m at #4, poised toward #5. But now, I’m turning toward a totally new market. I guess that means I’m starting back at #1.

    You’ll get through 2nd bookitis, Linda. Because you’re a writer and it’s what you do.


  7. There’s probably never a cure for second book itis, third book itis, etc. With every book I write I think it can’t possibly be any good, so I sympathize. One sure cure is a two-book contract, then another etc., Now that those have gone the way of publishing in NY, we’re left to our own devices on deadlines. So set one as if the publisher had done so and stick to it. Set a strict schedule where you write so long every day. It’s sometimes a mistake to set a word count, but rather just put your butt in a chair and write one, two or three hours every day. You’ll turn out something. But all the advice in the world won’t really help, cause it has to be something down inside of you that desperately wants to finish that book. Interesting blog. And you have a lot of company.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      I’m working on the “strict schedule” part. I’ve finally made friends and family realize not to call during my work hours. The problem with my self-imposed deadlines is that I don’t have enough self-discipline to enforce them (although this year, it hasn’t entirely been my fault).

      Thanks for visiting, Velda.


  8. Alex Adena says:

    Hang in there, Linda. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to be your own toughest critic — I’d be a little disappointed if you didn’t set ever-higher standards for yourself. That’s how we get better, right?


  9. Karen Casey Fitzjerrell says:

    Linda – ditch the writing partner and write what you want! Put the project-in-progress in a file somewhere. You can always go back to it some day. But for now – – start fresh. Read, take walks, get your hair done – – then write the story you want to read!


    • Linda Yezak says:

      Starting fresh sounds like a dream. It’ll happen soon enough, but I have these two works to finish before I can have my dessert. I have been dallying with a new WIP, though. πŸ™‚

      Thanks for the comment, Karen.


  10. heidiwriter says:

    Linda, keep plugging away! You wrote an excellent first book, so I KNOW you have it in you. I suffer from the same fears and “itises,” thinking I’ll never be able to write another book. And after my first book, when I learned what hard work marketing is, I ran out of steam with my second book for awhile. Take Anne Lamott’s advice: “Give yourself permission to write a ‘crappy’ first draft.” Just get it down on paper, don’t look back, don’t re-edit, until you are done. As Ernest Hemingway said, “There are no great writers, only great re-writers.” That is so very true! Hang in there, girl, you can do it!!


Talk to me--I love comments!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.