Monday, July 14, 2014

The More Things Change

by Holly West

...the more they stay the same.

I'm an author with two novels written. One was published in February 2014 and the other will come out in September. Yes, two books published in one year. It's not typical, but in the time it took me to get a book deal for my first novel, I had the bones of a sequel written and wrote a proposal for a second book when I got the offer on the first. Things moved quickly after that, and boom, I have two books coming out in one year.

Having a novel published is a thrill--the fulfillment of a life-long dream. But I also find that I'm chronically overwhelmed and spend a lot of time looking like this:

I'm not sure where I got the idea that once I was published everything would be smooth-sailing. I know too many authors for which this has not been the case to be that deluded. And yet somehow, I'd convinced myself that once I got published, the gates to a full-fledged writing career would magically open. And so they have, to a small extent. The problem is that those very same gates could easily be slammed shut again and I am on a constant "Woo hoo, I'm published!" "Oh no, my sales are too low!" "Hooray, there's another great review!" "Woe is me, I don't know what else to write" roller coaster.

Getting back to the title of this post, things have changed. After nearly six years of writing, re-writing, querying, and hoping, I'm finally a published author. I have an agent. But earlier today, when I was brainstorming topics for this post, I re-visited my own blog and found this post written in July 2012:

Where Are My Bootstraps?

This paragraph, in particular, struck me:

"The last few days have been a bit hard for me. It all started with a rejection on Friday morning, the first email of the day. It wasn’t a particularly surprising one, nor was it from someone I’d placed a lot of hope on, but I hadn’t seen one for awhile and it shook me. I spent all of Friday in a terrible mood and after a weekend of pretending none of my WIPs existed, today I find myself feeling a little like giving up. You know, giving up this writing thing. I won’t do it of course but there’s just that urge to say fuck it and get a job at Starbucks, or, as I’m so fond of joking, be a greeter at Walmart."

Back to the present: I've been in a terrible funk the past week or so. I'm not functioning very well on any level. And while most of the time I'm pretty cheerful, that's been impossible lately. So when I read that post, written three years ago, nearly to the day (and before I was published), I was struck by how little things had really changed. I'm still overwhelmed, anxious and full of self-doubt. Only now, the stakes are higher. I've got to worry about how many copies my books sell. I have to make sure I'm doing everything I can to market the books while at the same time writing the next one so that I can (hopefully) get a better deal.

Most of the time I manage to overcome the self-doubt and keep on writing, but sometimes, I'd like to go back to the good old days, before I was published. Things were simpler then. Christ, I sound like a bitter old man lamenting the passage of time and insisting that things were so much better in when he was a kid.

The thing is, this enormous back and forth between elation and defeat seems to be a normal part of a writer's life. The victories are exquisitely sweet and the failures are soul-crushing. Is it that writers are so invested in their work that they can only see it in extremes? Or is the "writer's personality," if such a thing exists (and I think to some extent, it does), dysfunctional in a way that prevents us from handling the normal peaks and valleys of any profession, and life in general, without falling into the depths of despair?

Perhaps it's a bit of both.

Don't get me wrong. I'm THRILLED to have come this far with my writing. The sense of accomplishment is like nothing I've ever experienced. I've said before that I'm not fond of the daily writing grind, but the satisfaction that comes from having done it is worth the pain. The honest truth is that I feel privileged to be doing this, even if I need to rant occasionally. It's a good life.

Holly West is a crime fiction writer based in Los Angeles. She’s the author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in late 17th London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. The first in the series, Mistress of Fortune, was published by Harlequin’s Carina Press in February 2014 and its sequel, Mistress of Lies, is forthcoming in Fall 2014. Find her online at, twitter, and facebook.


Peter Hogenkamp said...

Holly, I was just reflecting on this the other day. Human nature is a funny thing, no? Great post! And congrats on two books in a year!

Sue Coletta said...

Trust me, you don't want to go back. :)

Eliza Cross said...

Holly, I appreciate your candor about this aspect of the writer's life -- the feeling that we must constantly be producing measurable output! Great post.

Holly West said...

Thanks, guys. The funny thing is that I felt better immediately after writing this post. I suppose just taking the time to articulate one's feelings can be helpful.