The Sophomore Slump

May 26, 2018

I was on a writing high when I began 39 Winks, the second book in the Maggie O’Malley mystery series. Protocol, my debut novel, had been well received, and I made outlines, created character portraits and squirreled away office supplies as I prepared for a repeat performance.

 

“Aren’t you worried about the sophomore slump?” a playwright friend had asked me.

 

“Pardon?” I replied, mentally cracking my knuckles and stretching my deltoids as I warmed up for my second act. 

 

“You know,” she prompted. “A poor follow-up to your first success.”

I halted, mid-mental-knuckle-crack, and stared at her. “Well, I wasn’t. Until you suggested it.”

 

Then, of course, it was all I could think about.

 

 What if I can’t come up with a plot for my second book? What if it’s awful? What if I’m sent to some kind of author reform school?

 

Once the idea of failure had dropped into my head like a poisonous seed, it spread roots, sending tendrils from my gray matter to my fingertips, stilling my fingers and stopping my brain. I was frozen. I had allowed myself to become paralyzed by the power of a terrible possibility. I worried that the sophomore slump could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

What to do?

 

Write. And if that failed, write some more.

 

Two decades as a copywriter had taught me that the only way to overcome writer’s block was to write. The good. The bad. The adjective-laden. It could all be edited into submission as long as—and here’s the rub—it was on the page in the first place.

 

Could the same be true with fear, I wondered? Could I write through the doubts and insecurities that had invaded my psyche?

Armed with a “there’s only one way to find out attitude,” I sat before the keyboard, faced the blank screen. And wrote my fanny off.

The balm that eased the chafe of writer’s block proved to be equally soothing for jangled nerves. With word count goals to meet (not to mention a deadline), I turned off my internal editor—and my friend’s well-meaning voice—and plowed ahead. Was it always pretty? Heavens, no. But it was always progress.

 

I finished my manuscript ahead of schedule and—here was the big surprise—fell in love with it every bit as much as I had with for my first book-baby.

 

39 Weeks is coming into the world in a few short weeks. I don’t think of it as my sophomore work, but rather the second chapter in a story that I love. I hope you do, too.

 

(Re-posted from my guest visit with the wonderful Chicks on the Case: https://chicksonthecase.com/2018/05/16/guest-chick-kathy-valenti/)

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