Eight (more) things I’ve learned about publishing since I got published

Last year, right after RED came out, I wrote this post about the nine things I wish I’d known about publishing before I got published. I stumbled across it the other day, and I still stand by everything I said then. But I’ve had all kinds of new experiences during this past year in the trenches, and it turns out I might be the teeniest bit wiser now than I was last November. So here are eight more things I’ve learned about publishing since I became a published author.

1) Nope, it still hasn’t gotten easier. 
I’m drafting my seventh novel now, and I still get scared every single time I sit down to write. Despite loads of evidence to the contrary, part of me always feels like this will be the day I forget how to write, that the creative well dries up for good. The process of creating a story is so mysterious—I’ve never really understood how or why ideas come to me, and if I don’t have an idea, there’s no magical series of buttons I can push to make one appear. That’s terrifying to me. I also have this theory that as your writing improves, it’ll seem to you as if it’s getting worse and worse. It’s not—it’s just that you’re able to see your mistakes much faster and with more acuity than you used to. This is a really good thing in the long run, but it makes it way harder to churn out that crappy first draft. Sometimes I long for the days I was a terrible writer and thought everything I did was amazing.
2) Life is much much better if you don’t google yourself. 
It’s one thing to read your trade reviews or the nice reviews bloggers send you. But setting up a Google alert for your name or scouring the internet for everything everyone is saying about you can only end in disaster. Last year, my new year’s resolution was not to Google myself ever; if I did, I was not allowed to eat anything with sugar in it for 24 hours. Every time I wanted to type my name into that search bar, it forced me to evaluate whether I’d rather have a pity party or a cookie. And you all know how I feel about cookies. (I haven’t Googled myself even once since last December. I am a happier person for it.)
3) The weeks leading up to your second book’s release are really, really different from your first.
I spent the entire month leading up to RED’s release worrying, making to-do lists, stress-eating, and scouring the internet for reviews. This time around has been… a little different. Last night I was leaving an event with a friend, and I asked her, “When will I see you next?”
“Next week!” she said.
“Oh god, is book club that soon?” I said. “I better read the book.”
“Um, no,” she said. “YOUR LAUNCH PARTY is next week.”
It was the third time I’d made that mistake that day. This time, I’m not nervous people won’t respond well to my book. I’m worried I won’t remember to show up at my own party.
4) Eyes on your own paper.
This is a really difficult one. Every day, the internet is full of people sharing their new deals and good reviews and foreign rights and award nominations. December’s the hardest month for this, because so many people write “best books of the year” lists, and everyone wants to share which ones they’re on. It took me along time to figure out that that stuff doesn’t affect me or my career. Someone else’s success won’t stop me from being successful. A best-of list won’t make me successful. Everyone’s career trajectory is different; read a few dozen “how I got my agent” stories if you need a reminder. Literally everything in publishing is out of your control except the words you write. Close that disappointing best-of list and type.
5) Taking breaks to refill the well is part of the process and should be counted as work. 
This is definitely the hardest one for me to remember. Since I started writing full-time, I feel like I’m slacking off if I don’t write every single day—it’s my job, and I have to do my job, right? But writing isn’t the same as selling real estate or de-bugging code or campaigning for a politician or drawing a blueprint. Those things are self-contained; you can do them even if you feel really uninspired. Writing fiction requires that you go do other stuff sometimes so you have something to write about. There’s only so much output your brain can give if you’re not putting anything in. See movies. Go to lectures and museums. Watch plays and dance performances and operas. Read books you didn’t write. Talk to other humans. Fill yourself up with other people’s stories. It doesn’t feel like work, but it’s work.
6) Be gentle with yourself. 

Being a full-time writer means working for yourself, and this is fabulous in lots of ways. You can work on your own schedule. You don’t have to get dressed or commute or make small-talk around the water cooler in order to do your job. For many (most?) of us, not having to interact with other humans is a huge plus. But that also means there’s nobody sitting there in the next cubicle, noticing you look frazzled and exhausted and suggesting that maybe it’s time for a coffee break or a mental health day. Your work is incredibly important, but it’s never more important than your sanity. When nobody else is around to remind you of that, you have to remember to do it yourself. Sometimes I think of my brain as a child I need to care for. I need to make it do the unpleasant tasks, like eating its vegetables and cleaning its room, but sometimes it needs to be snuggled and rewarded, too.
 
7) Whatever you’re experiencing, you’re not the only one.
First book isn’t selling well? Just got an edit letter that suggests you rewrite your manuscript from scratch? Haven’t felt inspired for months and feel like you might never write again? Got an awful Kirkus review? I guarantee there are tons of other writers going through the same thing today. YA authors excel at being honest about their process and their struggles, and there are probably ten blog posts out there that’ll help you feel less alone. Chances are one of your friends has gone through the same thing or is going through it right now. Ask for help. We’re here.
 
8) Look up. Pay attention to the world around you. 
Seriously, have you seen how weird the world is? Stories are everywhere, all the time. Catch them.