Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lessons from my Sophomore Slump

Everything is relative. Optimism vs. pessimism.Glass half-full or half-empty. Depends on how you look at it.  All of those clichés are clichés for a reason: they sort of sum up life and the way in which we all look at life choices. They certainly sum up the way I look at my job as an author. They definitely sum up my experience with the book that’s about to be released in October.

Rescued by a Stranger  will be my second release from Avon Books. We hear the term “sophomore slump” fairly often, but nobody really talks about it in detail.  “Yeah, that second book’s tough,” they say. Well, I’m here to tell you—sophomore slump is as real as the flu in February and just as obnoxious. It’s not just tough, it can dang near kill you. It certainly can take a brutal ax to your self-esteem.

Or—maybe it totally depends on how you look at it.

I’d like to share this novel’s journey to publication by means of two lists. The first shows how I viewed living through sophomore slump while I was living through it.  The second shows how I viewed it after gaining a little perspective (translation: once it was finished).

The pessimistic/glass half empty list:
Rescued by a Stranger  was the first full-length novel I ever wrote (trivia: the original title was Angelwings). I loved the story. I loved the characters. And revamping it to fit in with my three-book series was going to be a breeze. I’d make a few tweaks and, voila!

·        However, the writing, it turned out, was horrible. Okay, not horrible, but much weaker than the way I write now. It depressed me to read it. I put it aside for several weeks.
·        I wanted to kick my hero in the shins and tell him to quit moping. I wanted to get my heroine a “pull up your big girl pants” t-shirt. They had problems, but they were dealing with them like big ol’ babies.
·        I loved some parts of the story, but I had to change most of the timeline, most of the motivations.
·        I left in the parts I loved and tried to blend them with the new. When my CPs and agent read the book, however, the parts that didn’t work were those parts I’d left in.Grrrr.
·        I lost confidence. I lost track of the page count. I lost track of the story. I sat on it.I didn’t write for months (ergo, The Slump).
·        I promised the book to agent AND editor and didn’t deliver when I said I would. Fortunately, I had no official contract. I didn’t “miss” a deadline. But my procrastination felt like a criminal offense. Who would want me now?
·        When I did turn it in, a year after I’d started working on it and 18,000 words too long, I sweated for weeks, knowing my editor was putting off calling me, wondering how to let me know she’d made a dreadful mistake thinking she could take this book. And, by the way, who’d ever told me I could write?I was a one-hit wonder.

The glass was nearly empty by this time. And then, I heard back from agent and editor with nothing but praise and great suggestions for edits to make my unpolished gem shine.  They didn’t hate the book. They weren’t disappointed in me. Suddenly, the glass was magically refilling itself. Suddenly, I could see items on ...

The optimistic/glass half-full/it all depends on how you look at it list:
·        I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to make over my first manuscript, a decent story that I loved, into a wonderful story that I now adore.
·        I learned so much more about my craft than I would have getting it perfect the first time.
·        I learned more about characterization, motivation, and goals (isn’t there a whole book by the amazing Deb Dixon about that?) than I’d ever known. And I learned that it’s not good enough to tell your agent “I don’t know why he’s that way. He came to me fully formed.”
·        Because I took a year to write Rescued, it gave my first book a chance to “grow legs” and to sell well after a slower start.
·        I got to have a great time trying to come up with a title. All my ideas were rejected, so I called the book “Bob” for a while. I grew pretty fond of Bob the Book and now Bob isitsofficial affectionate appellation and something special I’ll always remember about this experience.
·        Once I finished this novel, I was so appreciative of writing fresh new words that I hit the ground running on Book 3 (affectionately known as Bill, Bob’s brother). It’s so great not to be constantly editing that I truly know there’ll be nojunior-slump. And that’s the biggest blessing of all.

So, I learned a lot during my sophomore slump. I didn’t love the process. I don’t want to repeat it. But I am grateful for the lesson:  Attitude makes a difference. Whether the glass is half-full or half-empty all depends on how you look at it.And this can be applied pretty much everywhere in life. Easy peasy. Now—if only I could remember the half-full stuff while I was in the process of emptying the glass!

What about you? Are you a half-empty or half-full kind of person? What pulls you out a slump?


  1. I have always seen the glass with water as half-full. I have my two cats to help pull me from my slump. They don't allow me to withdraw within myself. I think in some way, they are saying I have to snap out of it. One happens to bite me to get out of my slump.


    1. Kai! That's a fabulous story. I think there are a lot of cat people out there who are cat people for this very reason. The little furballs sure do know how to make you smile! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I try to view life as glass half full. I will admit to having times in my life where I do see things as half empty. But have found that I handle my issues and trials in life better when I view things as half full. And I think my attitude is what makes that seem to work for me! I can't wait to read the new book!

    1. Hi Deanna,
      I think you hit it on the head--if we can try to stay positive, things have a way of working out. I find I'm half-full a lot of the time and half-empty when I can't quite figure out the solution at the moment. The key for me is being patient. But I think your key is more effective!

  3. While I can be really hard on me, I'm also my biggest cheerleader. I'll give myself a day or two to mope and then I'll do just about anything to step out of that mood (even I get sick of my conversation). Sometimes it means calling someone who I know will not tolerate my self pity. Other times I just decide to approach the problem or issue from a comp,steely radical perspective. Whatever direction I choose, this never seems to fail me. I get recharged and energized and I find solutions that work.

    I'm very much a glass half full kind of girl:)

    1. Hey Jonetta,
      You're another who really knows herself and that's so impressive. To know how to recharge is the secret, so good on you!

  4. I wish I could say that I'm a glass half full kind of girl, but the truth is, I don't care if the glass is half full or half empty as long as it has something in it. In other words, I'm a realist. I approach my writing slumps the same way. Even if I'm down, even if I'm lost, I try my best to at least worry out the details of a scene even if I'm not quite up to writing that day. There is always a tomorrow. and if by chance there isn't, then I wouldn't have been finished with that story anyway. :) OMG... I think I just depressed myself! Great post though Liz ... hehe

    1. Way to go, Maxine--depressing yourself on MY watch, LOL. But, you remind me a lot of my daughter--a total realist. And I actually LOVE your line: "I don't care ... as long as it has something in it." That's awesome! And, I'm not at all ashamed to admit that I know you and know how you can pull yourself out of a funk better than almost anyone. You're pretty cool. Have a wonderful day, my friend!

  5. That was fun to read, Liz. Much success with Bob and Bill!

    I'm a glass-half-full girl, but I do have those "I suck" moments, too.

    1. Thank you so much, Abigail. I think you put it the most succinctly of all--those "I suck" moments are definitely the spice of life :-D Thanks for coming by. And--the same luck to your wonderful books too!

  6. I love your attitude, Liz, and YES, so much of it IS attitude. It's all in how you look at that glass to see how much is in it. We don't like these kinds of experiences in our lives, but often when we look back, THEN we can see what we learned and appreciate the "slump." Looking forward to your new book. Write ON!

  7. Oh, thank you, Heather! We both know how to look back and count our blessings, I know. And--when we do it "right," we look forward and count them too! So glad to know you! Good writing to you too!

  8. Thanks for the post Lizbeth. I tried to return to 'the first book I ever wrote' after my first novel, then novella, were published. But I gave up on it about a month ago and I now call it (not quite as affectionately as you call yours 'Bob') 'The book that will never be written.'
    So I dumped it, and started a new story, and my glass has been half-full again since!
    Good luck with Bill!
    Lily M

  9. Hi Lily,
    Hope you see this a day late :-) Huge congrats on being wise enough to know when to let the first book go. There are times when I truly thought that would have been smart for me, too. I'm so glad you love what you're working on now--I can't wait to hear more about it! Thanks for stopping by!


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