Next Exit: Insanity 1.5 Miles
Melissa asked on the last thread how an author's career goals change after the first sale. Or something like that. So let me explain the usual psychology/neuroses/insanity that occurs once a writer has made his or her first sale and asks, "Okay, I made it. What's next?"
(And let me say that this is not exactly, like, scientific stuff here. I didn't survey 5000 writers or anything. I'm just talking out my my ass...I hate that phrase, "talking out of my ass," but what other phrase communicates the same sort of I'm-winging-it incompetence?)
Once you've recovered from the elation that comes with selling your first book, realizing you've proven you're not a hack or a fraud, and showing all your friends and family that you are not completely deluded in your pursuit of your dreams, then you start to worry that if you don't sell your second book, you'll prove that you really are a hack and a fraud and that all your friends and family will soon be whispering among themselves about how your one sale was a fluke and that you really should have gone back to school to study accounting after all. And then you worry that you really WILL have to go back to school to study accounting after all, and your first book advance isn't even enough to pay the tuition for one semester.
A year or so passes, and if you are diligent and lucky, you've made your second sale and maybe a few more. You have a small altar to your editor erected in your bedroom, complete with a photo of you standing next to her at a writer's conference, and a hair of hers that you found on your sweater after the photo was taken. For a brief while (like, ten minutes), you are blissful. You have something resembling the start of a writing career.
But then you get your first royalty statement, you do a little math in your head about your future income, and you feel the horror of knowing that if you ever want to live above the poverty line, you should have gone back to school to study accounting. You have an intimate night alone with a bottle of Wild Turkey.
After you recover from your hangover, this is when you really get serious about writing as fast as possible. Partly because you do not want to be an accountant, and partly because you are starting to go insane. You sit down with your calendar and do complicated calculations about how many hours per night you need to sleep, how many pages per hour you can write, how many years of your life you could claim back if you stopped watching TV, and how many pages per year you need to produce to write as fast as Nora Roberts.
You realize that if you shake the reality TV addiction and develop a nighttime coffee habit, you can write 6 books per year just like Nora. For a couple of months--or a couple of years if you are as obsessive as I am--you spin your wheels trying to live by this schedule. You only manage to get three books per year written, because you keep getting pregnant and having babies and moving to different countries and your hair is falling out and stuff.
At the same time, you become obsessed with winning a Rita, and your over-inflated ego expands further when you actually final in the Ritas. You find yourself saying over and over again, "It's an honor just to be nominated." And when you look around at your competition, you realize it's actually true--it IS an honor just to be nominated--but that doesn't make you sound any less cheesy for saying it all the time. When you don't win, you are both disappointed and relieved, and actually happy JUST TO BE NOMINATED, but everyone treats you like an important family member has just died when you tell them you didn't win.
Okay, and this entry is getting way long, so I'm going to stop here. A cliffhanger! You must tune in again to learn the rest of the story. You must come back again to read Part II in this rambling and self-serving essay on my--er, I mean, every writer's--journey from one set of career goals to the next.