Please join the Chicks in welcoming Kathy Valenti, author of the Maggie O’Malley Mysteries!
The Sophomore Slump
I was on a writing high when I began 39 Winks, the second book in the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series. My debut novel Protocol had been well received with Agatha and Lefty noms, 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?
Simple. Write. And if that failed, write some more.
Two decades as a copywriter has taught me that the only way to overcome writer’s block is to write. The good. The bad. The adjective-laden. It can all be edited into submission as long as—and here’s the rub—it’s on the page in the first place.
Turned out the same was true with fear. Armed with an oh-how-I-hope-I-can 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 and a deadline to make, I turned off my internal editor—and my friend’s well-meaning voice—and plowed ahead. Was it always pretty? Um, no. But it was progress and in the end, “pretty” happened.
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 feel the same way, too.
So how about you? Does one success make you feel ready for the next? Or does it give you major performance anxiety? Please share!
Kathleen Valenti is the author of the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series. The series’ first book, Agatha- and Lefty-nominated Protocol, introduces us to Maggie, a pharmaceutical researcher with a new job, a used phone and a deadly problem. The series’ second book, 39 Winks, releases May 22nd. When Kathleen isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. She lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running. Learn more at www.kathleenvalenti.com.