Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Under Pressure

Yesterday there were so many great comments about sequels and whether or not to write them. Thank you so much for the added opinions. It really is a personal decision, and if you have written one please don't feel bad! Like I said, I wrote one too and I did learn a lot from it. Learning is good. You just have to be okay with knowing learning might be the only thing to come out of it.

One person even mentioned writing a sequel as practice, because they'd heard from many published authors that the sequel is HARD.

While I do think that is a smart idea, I also wanted to talk about something many writers can't quite grasp unless they are published—the pressure.

Now, I'm not published, obviously, but I do have several friends who are or soon will be. And I do have an agent, which comes with a different kind of pressure that, I hope, is preparing me for the eventual pressure of publication.

See, it's not necessarily the sequel itself that is hard to write (I mean, it is hard, but all books are hard for many different reasons), it's the experience of writing under pressure for the first time. This, no matter how much practice you've had, is something you can't be fully prepared for. It's like having kids—you do your research and make plans and decide how you will act, but in the end it's just not how you imagined it. There are things you cannot prepare for.

If you don't have an agent or editor, it's hard to understand that pressure. All you can think right now is that's what you want! Bring on the pressure! And that's OKAY. By all means want those things, but I encourage you not to underestimate the oncoming pressure. And please don't feel bad when you go through it. As far as I can see, it's totally normal.

I remember when I first started writing. I wrote for myself. I wrote whatever I wanted. I mostly wrote for fun since I figured publishing was a long ways off. I put some pressure on myself, but it was all me and I could take it off whenever I wanted.

I can't tell you how much I miss those days, when I wasn't worried about whether or not my agent would want to represent my next project. I can't tell you how many published authors I've talked to who tremble over sending their next project to their editor, wondering if they'll still like them. It's an indescribable unease that lives in your blood, weakening your resolve if left unchecked.

From what I've heard, writing under contract is freaking scary. The first book you got to spend time on—all the time you wanted! Sure, you know what happens in the sequel, but you don't have as much time to write and edit like you did with the first. And on top of that, you have people waiting—your agent and editor and future readers. What if they don't LIKE it? What if your editor regrets signing you? What if you don't meet expectations? What if, after all this work, no one buys your book and you're a big fat flop? What if it's so bad your editor nulls the contract just to cut losses?

Ridiculous, but you'd be surprised how panicky you can get when you have to write a book not only for yourself, but for other people.

I know it shouldn't be important. I know that we want to think it's easy to get past those emotions, but you would be surprised how hard it is! And then you start to feel guilty, because you finally have a book deal and everyone expects you to be happy and perfect because you have what everyone else wants. So you can't even talk about how much you're struggling, because you shouldn't be, and you are.

You have to trick yourself in to thinking there's no pressure, that you're still writing just for you, but that doesn't take it away. It only dulls it momentarily. You still know in the back of your head that there are expectations, and you might not meet them. Learning to live with people reading over your shoulder is part of the gig, and it's harder than you expect because it's what you thought you wanted for so long!

I wish I could give tips on how to overcome the pressure, but I'm still figuring it out myself. All I can tell you is to be prepared for it and not to beat yourself up if it hits you harder than you expected. The more you panic over the pressure, the worse it gets. I know that for sure.

Now, I'm gonna go pretend I'm writing this new WIP just for myself and see how long it lasts.


  1. "So you can't even talk about how much you're struggling, because you shouldn't be, and you are."

    YES. I'm only having my stuff read by beta-readers for the first time, but even that is a small taste of what you're talking about. Small, but a taste nonetheless. I can only imagine what it must feel like to have that sort of pressure - and to not feel the freedom to express your struggles to the extent to which you feel them.

    Thank you for saying these things. It's reassuring. No doubt there are a hundred people feeling the same way for every one who admits it.

    :) Kayla

  2. I read this post nodding my head in agreement and hoping that by the end of it there would be a helpful hint in how to deal with the pressure, and then there wasn't.
    But that's OK.
    I figure it's something that all writers deal with and have to find their own way to overcome or work despite of. There is no easy solution. It just comes with the territory (and isn't there always a price of some kind?)
    Thanks for posting this because as a fellow writer I can definitely affirm that there is pressure. A lot. And no one really gets it but other writers and that's why this sense of community I've found in the writing world is so important.
    Nice to know that there are others facing the same kind of crazy that you are.

  3. I agree with what you are saying and can see how writing under pressure can be difficult. I mean I don't like to write sometimes if I have a headache. I don't know what I would feel like if I had the pressure of deadlines and the possible rejection of my agent or editor.
    I haven't gotten to the point of querying yet. But I expect there is a lot of pressure in that process. I'm already prepared for the rejections. But the notion of pitching your book in a paragraph or two is a lot of pressure too, IMO.

  4. Oh, SO true! I've just signed with an agent, but we've been working on revisions for the last couple weeks and I can't begin how describe how much pressure I feel on me now! It's like I worry if my revisions will disappoint her or not, if the book will sell (now that there's a chance it might), etc etc.

    Pressure is hard. Writing for myself was so much fun. I don't miss it yet, but I know I will eventually. Still in that happy glow of I-have-an-agent-ness, but not exactly immune to the pressure either.

  5. This is something that isn't talked about much. It's not just about getting your foot in the door, but keeping it there.

  6. I worry (prematurely) about that a lot. It's silly, because I haven't started the first draft of what I HOPE will be the book good enough to query, since the last few were terrible, but I worry I will sign an agent and they won't like my second book. I've had all the time in the world to write a few novels screw them up, and learn from that.

    I can't imagine doing that WITH an agent waiting over my shoulder. You are much braver than you think, Natalie! Most of us are writing novels, and then get an agent. We get to revise in private. Not with an agent hanging over our shoulders.

    What does your agent say when you say you're afraid he won't like your next book? Nathan seems like a great guy, and I don't imagine that he's hard to talk to.

    What do agents response to that fear in general I wonder? This is where finding an agent who is a good fit for your personality, not just one book, is crucial.

    Thanks for another excellent post Natalie! You manage to make them so personal and heartfelt, without ever whining or being negative.

  7. I sold my first book in March, meaning my edits came in the midst my crazy summer (we sold a house, bought a house, moved across country, and added a puppy to the family).

    It was an intense time. I won't lie and say it was easy. Thankfully, it was also "the summer of Dad" (my husband was a huge help as I grabbed moments at the library).

    As hard as these months were, they were also hugely satisfying. I feel like I took a summer intensive. I've learned so much about writing in general and my strengths and weaknesses in particular.

  8. Oh, geez. That made me nervous just reading it--and I don't even have an agent yet. I never write books that *have* to have a sequel, because I'm just not sure I could handle that kind of pressure.

    (Word verification? Soreal. As in, the pressure is so real. Ha.)

  9. This is an excellent post (follow up) and so very true. That first novel can take however long we want. But if the story line is picked up as a series or at least with one sequel, things change drastically. Yet, it's recommended to outline but not write the sequels in case the first never sells. Interesting how that all works out.

  10. I wouldn't know from experience yet either, but yeah. From what I can tell the pressure just keeps multiplying. But yes, everyone deals with it differently, and what works for one person won't work for another.

  11. Anita, querying IS a lot of pressure too! I wish I could say it got better. I think each step increases—just when you're comfortable with one you get slammed with more!

    Sangu, congrats on the agent! I know exactly how you feel:) But you'll be okay. So far all my worries have been completely unfounded.

    Elizabeth, I think most agent understand that the fear and pressure is normal, and they try to keep you calm. Again, it's normal—there's just a learning curve in figuring out how to deal with it.

    Caroline, yikes! Busy summer! But you are right, despite the pressure there is a lot of reward, too. I guess that's why we stick with it:)

  12. Wow, I'd never thought of that. But I can almost feel the pressure reading your post! Yikes! I'll do better at appreciating what I have. I promise! :)

  13. I'm SO in the delusional time frame of "I can take as long as I want." I know my agent is tapping her fingers, hoping I'll complete the brilliant work she's counting on as brilliantly as she's imagined. And, I'm not worried - I've got all the time in the world, right? Wrong. I'm very close to the end of my edits on my first novel that will go out on submission. This is most definitely the calm before the storm...

  14. That's a sobering thought. For people like me who are still woring to get signed, but not to any fixed deadlines, it's interesting to read about what will come if I do get taken on!

  15. I have a different background from most readers. I grew up on a little Caribbean island, and I feel like I have to be careful to tone stuff down to be understandable. Also, it seems most of the multicultural books are all literary. I don't want to do literary.

    Then I realised there is NO norm. Hopefully, that pressure will stay away long enough for me to finish WIP3.

  16. Is it bad that I'm nowhere close to publication, but I already feel a lot of pressure to write a book that's not mine? This comes from rather opinionated family members and friends who I know will want my stories to be something they aren't. It's been hard to push through that, especially when my older sister told me her daughter can't read my book if there's kissing in it. Really?!?

  17. I often think about this, although I don't have a book ready to query yet, and I wonder if this knowledge of what is to come is one reason for that. I'm trying to get things so squared away on my own before I get to that "hey where's the next one?" stage. Luckily I have a lot of different types of "next ones" in the rough draft form, but what if they hate them all? I can write a first draft in a month, but editing takes me forever. It's daunting, and almost makes me want to give up sometimes.

    It's good to know others feel the same sometimes.

  18. I'm feeling a tiny bit of that pressure right now and it is very daunting. I can't imagine how much harder it would be under contract.