Feeling The Pressure: Why I Had To Take My Head Out Of The Lion’s Mouth

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In early May, I announced the title to my second novel, Heavy Lies The Crown. Yay! Book two was hurtling for an October release, one year after its predecessor. The same day I recorded the video at Kensington Palace, I went to the London Book Fair, met a prospective agent with a different book and well – wasn’t I living the dream – or a least actively pursuing it? Making career decisions, taking fate into my own hands. But the truth is, I was close to burn out.

Since last year, I’ve been piling the pressure on myself. To deliver a self-published book to professional industry standards is actually very difficult and demanding (who knew?) and while I hope I pulled it off, it meant that after that book, Our Destiny Is Blood, went on release, a whole other level of pressure began to descend.

Was I doing enough? Selling enough? Tweeting enough? Spending enough? For without advertising, my book rested in online obscurity unless specifically sought out. And a little voice in my head was screaming, GET THE NEXT ONE OUT QUICK! First rule of self-publishing – have more than one book.

I thought I could write through the launch but I couldn’t. It demanded my focus and sure if I didn’t do a good job releasing it, I may as well just pack up my tent and go home. So the writing of book two got pushed to January and (thankfully with the help of The Inspiration Project – check out that post here), I managed to bring myself back to a level where I could write every day and get it finished. But I was already behind. What began as a hope of a Spring release, turned to Summer, then Autumn.

In trying to be the super indie author, to deliver my next book superfast, I damaged the whole dream for myself. Because when you can’t deliver on high expectations, your inner voice turns on you, telling you you’re not up to the job and then it begins to slowly shut down all your creative synapses like a virus.

Was it book two syndrome? Is that what was happening? The pressure to pull it all together again? Was the first one a fluke? Maybe I was just doing too much. I was trying to get two new projects off the ground. Heavy Lies The Crown, now written, needed re-drafting to put it on course for release; and the other, my supernatural crime novel I (hurriedly) took to London, needed more work too because the whole manuscript must be in the best condition I can present it, in looking for an agent. Twice the work, the pressure and the worry.

Over my desk, on my huge noticeboard were plotting notes, chapter by chapter for two books. Two completely different entities looming over me, neither of which I could gain any momentum on. Weeks of inactivity followed. I needed to drop one of them to ease it, but which one? I decided to get the follow-up done – continue my self-publishing journey and my famine vampire series. Stick to my guns and my release plans. The re-draft was akin to getting blood from a stone and I fell further and further behind. And when you hit rock bottom, when the day has you beat, you come back to that question; why am I doing this to myself?

I needed to take stock.

So I pressed pause. I took my head out of the lion’s mouth and had a good look at what I was doing. I was persecuting myself, giving in to the critic in my head, telling me I couldn’t find any joy in it anymore. I took a week off with no writing; some time to recalibrate, to rest the creative muscle that had withered and weakened and I realised that I’m not a robot. Because this is not an automated action. Some indie authors write extremely fast and my hat goes off to them, but I am not one of them. Stories for me, take time to percolate. They can’t be rushed. And that’s okay. I’m okay with that.

I also came to realise something very important. I’ve achieved a certain amount in a small amount of time, but the truth is, if this were a college course, then I’ve only just completed first year, and second year is even harder. By going with that analogy, I can accept that I am in the game but don’t have to be on top of it all the time, because I’m still learning. As a new author self-publishing elevates you from the classroom to the boardroom if you like, but I’m still in my internship and don’t need to take on the mantle of CEO anytime soon and more importantly I shouldn’t be in any rush to do so.

So, I’ve let go of my self-inflicted deadlines and freed myself to just enjoy the process again. And it’s working. I’m bashing my crime novel into shape, away from my desk and out of the house. And its going well. And I’m excited about it again. Heavy Lies The Crown will follow when it’s ready.

There’s the saying that if writing were easy everyone would be doing it and it’s true. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and amid the rejection, and trying to hold onto dreams and ambitions, you steel yourself to the process and the fun part can slip away.

I just need to step out of the circus tent for a while. I’ve put my work out there, worn my heart on my sleeve, spent my last Euro, given it my all and I’m still here, if a little dishevelled.

For my sanity, I’m easing up on online marketing and prying myself away from daily sales and spreadsheets. I’ve taken a little Twitter and Facebook break – just to resuscitate myself. But I’ll be back.

I’ve also given myself more time to read. I just finished the utterly brilliant Lying In Wait by Liz Nugent and before that John Connolly’s The Woman In The Woods (a truly great addition to the Charlie Parker series). I’m on to The Boy On The Bridge now by M.R. Carey (I loved The Girl With All The Gifts).

So that’s the lay of the land. I’m writing. And I’m being kind to myself, which in general terms is a good way to live. I will go back to the circus tent but only when my act is as death-defying and spectacular as it can be. And you’ll be the first to hear about it.

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