Bonus Content: The Stress of Success by Aidan Doyle
From Aidan Doyle's "The Writer's Book of Doubt"
This weekend is our final bonus content from Aidan Doyle’s wonderful The Writer’s Book of Doubt, which is out now and contains practical advice and inspiration for dealing with the problems of the writing life. Remember, for the month of July, all posts to the paid subscriber tier of this newsletter include a 50% off promo code for it!
This essay dovetails a bit with what I talked about in the post on Second Book Stress, as Aidan dives into talking about the stress of success. A topic that can be very hard for us all to talk about, which means I think it is so, so important to discuss…
The Stress of Success
by Aidan Doyle
No one tells you how hard it is, having your first book come out. Or, EVERYBODY DOES, but you don’t listen, because it’s the thing you want most in the world... Suddenly, you’re stressing out about a million new things. Sales, reviews, the opinions of random strangers. Hate on Twitter. Love on Instagram. What does this mean for the next one? Will there be a next one? Should I try to do the same thing? Should I do something completely different? It threw me off my writing game more than anything else that’s ever happened to me.
- Sam J. Miller
Here’s what they don’t tell you about climbing mountains: almost everyone who dies, dies on the way down. The summit as much as you want it, is only the halfway point. And night will be here soon, and there will be no way to go but down, and you will be so tired. I am no climber of mountains, but I am a climber. Will you fall in plain sight, a monument to those who come after you? Will you vanish into the darkest depths, never to be seen again? Take a breath, as well as you can and prepare for the careful climb down. You have a long life still to live and many more mountains to climb.
- Noelle Stevenson
Beginning writers are sometimes under the impression that once they sell their first book, everything will be smooth sailing. There are plenty of things that can derail writing careers, and sometimes there’s disappointment because things don’t live up to your expectations. But there are also problems caused by success. Much of this can resolve around the weight of expectation. If your first book is a huge bestseller and wins all the awards then working on your second book can be a terrifying prospect. Everyone’s going to be disappointed and know your first book was a fluke. The same thing applies if one of your first short stories wins a major award. People are inviting you to submit to their fancy anthologies and you have no idea how you managed to write the first story and they’re going to be so disappointed in the drivel you send them.
Or maybe your dreams have come true, but you’re not sure how to handle all the extra attention. Why do interviewers keep asking the same boring questions? Why are you being asked for opinions on topics totally unrelated to your book? You just want to write. You don’t want to have to deal with all this business stuff. If you’re from a marginalized community, then suddenly you’re a spokesperson for an entire cultural group. If you mess up, you’re letting everyone else down.
It’s rare to get an international book tour and you’re so grateful for your publisher’s support, but you don’t want to spend a month away from your family, and staying in hotels gets tiring really quickly, and you thought there’d be time to see the local sights, but you just want to stay in bed and not talk to anyone ever again, and this was supposed to be your dream life. And if you complain, everyone will think you’re spoiled and ungrateful and there are a million hungry writers who would trade places with you in an instant.
There’s also the deadlines and the pressure to write sequels. Maybe it took you three years to write your first book and now you’re supposed to have two sequels written in two years, and you don’t even know what’s going to happen in the other books, because you originally thought it was a standalone novel. If you write the same kind of book, you’re going to be dismissed as repetitive. If you write something different, you’re ruining your personal branding and betraying your true fans.
Social media has made it so much easier for readers to reach out to writers. It can be wonderful to hear from fans how much your stories have meant to them. But people tag you on social media to let you know they thought your new book wasn’t as good. Or they keep asking when the next book is coming out. Or they blame you for things outside of your control like the price of the ebook or why the book isn’t available in a particular format in a certain country.
It’s good to be hopeful, but it’s also useful to anticipate potential issues. Don’t assume everything will turn out for the worst, but think about how you’d deal with problems.
Success can also cause problems by giving you more choices and opportunities. More opportunities is usually a good thing, but it can make it harder to keep your focus and choose what to do next. It’s good to explore different options—you’ve always wanted to write a comic book and now you have a chance—great, go for it! Maybe you’ll discover that’s what you wanted to do all along. But be aware it will take time away from other things you could have been doing. The more options you have, the harder it becomes to determine the worth of each option. If you have three choices, you can research them all, but if you have fifty choices, it’s too much work to decide which one to do and you end up doing none of them. Try not to let too much choice make you inactive. If you get stuck, hopefully there are people who you trust such as your agent or your writing friends who can give you helpful advice.
The Writer's Book of Doubt came out July 10 and you can order it here. About the book:
Impostor syndrome. Thinking that your writing sucks. Feeling targeted by the rejection cannon. Despairing that no one is ever going to read your stories. Lost in Submissionland. Overwhelmed by radioactive brain weasels.
The Writer's Book of Doubt contains practical advice and inspiration for dealing with the problems of the writing life.
Illustrated by Kathleen Jennings.
With essays from:
Aliette de Bodard, Delilah S. Dawson, Kate Dylan, Malon Edwards, Meg Elison, Kate Elliott, Lauren Herschel, S.L. Huang, Crystal Huff, Kameron Hurley, Matthew Kressel, R.F. Kuang, Fonda Lee, R. Lemberg, Likhain, Jeannette Ng, A. Merc Rustad, Mary Swangin, Bogi Takács, E. Catherine Tobler, Martha Wells and Isabel Yap.