It took me over two years to get up the gumption to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been sitting around staring off into space for the past two years, but I haven’t had the stomach (or heart) to start a new novel. I’ve used this space (and my own blog) to discuss why in the past, so I won’t linger on that for too long. But after my last book came out, I felt…well, it’s complicated. I felt enormously proud of what I thought was my best book, my best writing, but I also felt incredibly demoralized about the state of the publishing industry and what is now asked of authors and what authors then have to ask of readers. (It goes something like this: “Please, please, pleeeeeeease, pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease buy my book.”)
So. I took a break. I wrote screenplays and moved my family across the country and took on celeb interviews, and I vowed (to myself) that I wasn’t going to write another novel because it took too much out of me. Certainly, some of this pressure was pressure that I placed on myself. I wasn’t sure that I could write a better book than the one I just had, and to me (because maybe I’m a little crazy), I didn’t know what the point was of writing if I couldn’t write well. But it was also more than that too – that if the process was so tangled and confusing and a little bit depressing when I wrote such a well-reviewed book, what else was there for me to do?? Write a terrible book? Would I feel less let down and see better sales in that case?
Anyway, the long and the short of it was…I was done writing novels.
Then, after a long break, I remembered a manuscript that I’d started before my ennui hit. I read it and thought it was hilarious. Totally different than the voice I’d used for my just-released novel, totally different than anything else I’d ever written. I started tinkering with it, playing around for the sake of pure enjoyment, and damn if I didn’t, well, start writing a book again.
I tricked myself, and I’m so glad that I did.
I began writing not with the idea of compiling a book that would, say, sell to publishers for a big advance or be a future best-seller or be praised as my most literary novel yet, but just because I thought the book was so much fun. And I know that may sound weird, but I’m guessing that plenty of published authors (and aspiring writers, actually) know of what I speak. In our industry, it’s hard not to look ahead: will this be well-reviewed?, is this “literary enough?,” will this be called “chick lit” when you want to be taken more seriously?, will publishers find this unique enough but still commercial enough?, etc, etc, etc? As I wrote (and as I write, since I am still in the middle of the book!), I realized how much pressure I’d felt to be more literary in my last work, to go darker, to be taken more seriously.
And I thought: sheesh, I’m an idiot! I should write what I love! But guess what? This sense of pressure and weight of expectations is also totally human.
Now, I am writing because this book is so much fun. I have no idea who will buy it, I have no idea if it will be praised as gut-splittingly hilarious or if I’ll be deemed a total lightweight. It sincerely doesn’t matter to me. I’m that old person who has decided to walk around in her figurative pajamas all day because I sort of a) realize that I’ve earned it and b) further realized that trying to meet everyone else’s expectations was selling myself short.
Screw it. I’m writing because it’s fun, and I’m enjoying it. All of that other crap that screws up my psyche.
If you’re feeling hampered, I highly recommend this: writing without a net, writing without everyone else whispering in your ear. Not because the genre is hot, not because you want to be taken seriously, not because you feel like you should write something. Write what you want, write how you want. Do I think this will be my best book yet? I do. But does it matter if no one else agrees? Not this time. It really won’t.