A Second Book, the Writing Funk, and How to Deal With Reviews

Let me start off with some outstanding news. I just finished the first draft of my second book. I love the “final” product. It’s a very tense and anxious story. I learned a lot when writing and editing Darker Shadows, and this new book benefits tremendously from that experience. This is going to be a good one, and I can’t wait for you to be able to read it in a few months.

Now let me tell you about the funk.

I wouldn’t call it writer’s block per say; more like writer’s pessimism. The ideas are all there, and some of them really want to get out.  I just can’t bring myself to care enough to get off my butt and put them on paper as productively as I was a few months ago. Why? Well, the short answer is I released a book. Silly, I know. After all, that was the culmination of a lifelong dream. It isn’t a matter of expectations being set too high, that’s for sure. I may have dreamed about my first novel being a breakout success, but I certainly didn’t plan on it. So what is it that got me so bummed out? Reviews.

Yes, reviews. The natural predator of the writer.

(Well. One of them anyway.)

(Well. One of them anyway.)

Reading reviews did a lot to dampen my spirits. The kick is, most of them aren’t bad. In fact, for every bad review (2 stars or less on Amazon/Goodreads/NetGalley) I have a dozen good ones. (Four or more stars) So why the funk? Two reasons. The first is obvious: bad reviews are a kick in the gut. Not terrible, my world is over kind of shitty, but bad enough to make you read it a few times and possibly drink. I’m not one of the many writers who’s lost their damn mind over bad reviews, but it does suck, especially when you think they’re flat out wrong. Not, “I didn’t like it wrong,” but, “All of the characters are dogs in clown makeup,” wrong.

Just as insidious are the good reviews. Yes, I know, it sounds silly, but for every good review I get makes it that much shittier to get a bad one. Good reviews can cause other problems too. After all, if most people love it, then anyone who has anything critical to say must just be stupid, right? If you think this kind of thinking doesn’t happen, then you haven’t spoken to enough writers. I benefit from enough self-flagellation that this isn’t a problem, but I’ve talked to several people who are mystified that their book isn’t selling– ignoring all the bad reviews and seeing only the good.

Both types of reviews have merit to them. A bad review can point out some critical problems that could lead to you evaluating a weakness you didn’t know you had. You learn more from failure than success after all. Good reviews can boost your confidence and help you get a feel for what you’re doing correctly. My editor gave me a piece of advice about all of it though, and I’ve since put it into action: “Don’t read reviews. Reviews are for the readers, not for the writer.” It didn’t take me long to see the wisdom in this. If you’re as pessimistic as me, I suggest you take her advice as well.

I feel like I’m airing out my dirty laundry on my neighbors forehead here, but doing so makes me feel better. The funk has cast it’s horrible shadow on me across the entirety of November. I chipped at my second book, ticking away at it much slower than I had before Darker Shadows released. I spent some time plotting out my next novel. (Something I haven’t done up to this point.) Themes, characters, scenes that stick out in my head– that kind of thing. It isn’t as satisfying as actually writing a story, and it certainly won’t get a book finished, but it kept the creative juices flowing while I sat on my couch like a lump. I can’t say I haven’t been busy, just not as focused as I’d liked. Not writer’s block, just a funk.

It’s a shitty place to be, but I’m dealing. I’m happy to have that second book done, and the third book I plan to write is a story that’s been in my head for more than a decade now. I’m looking forward to sitting down and writing it before I edit book two. Slowly but surely, I’m drifting out of the funk. My advice if you find yourself in this place? Same as ever. Keep writing.

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