Wednesday 17 June 2015

The Black Dog Lives Part Time at my House

(a serious post, just to prove I can write one)

Dammit, I’m insecure again.

I have two dogs.  Frankenpoodle is friendly ginger giant of a mutt who lies on the couch next to me as I write.

The other one is black.

The black dog has no name, but haunts me like a ghost.  It wanders in and out of my life, with no listed itinerary.  One minute, I can be writing the best novel of my career.  The next day, I am in a straight-jacket of doubt, unable to type.

It shouldn’t be thus.  No one believes I do this dance with the black dog.  Not me, the comedy writer.  People expect black comedy, maybe.  But not the dark shadow of the black dog.  

I am not first by far.  Better and far more famous writers than me have been stalked by this crippling creature. That is some consolation.  Good company is always a blessing.

I’ve tried numerous things to shoo it away.

1.      Awards
We authors long to win awards and be recognized by a jury of our peers.  For some, it is the pinnacle of acceptance, the final reassurance that we are not writing crap.

I’ve won 10 awards.  I won three big ones last year.  It felt great.  It should be all any writer needs, for the rest of their life.

Every author knows you can’t win every award every year.  You can’t even expect to be shortlisted two years in a row.  So why does one feel particularly inadequate when the inevitable happens, after a particularly good year?

2.      Sales
Your first book has stellar sales.  Your second book gets two awards, but sales aren’t quite as good.  Your third book in the series gets no awards, but sales are steady.  Still not as stellar as book one though.

With my first book, I would have been happy if 400 people had bought and read it.  Then, it was 4000.  Now, I won’t be satisfied until 40,000 have bought and read it.  Reaching for sales is soul-sucking.  You can never sell enough.  The next plateau is always beyond reach. No one will ever be satisfied.

3.       Book contracts
Your publisher says they want the next book in your series.  You give a sigh of relief.  You are not a ‘homeless’ author looking for a new publisher, like some of your colleagues right now in this heartless industry.

So you start to plan the next book in your series.  And the black dog sits over your shoulder, panting.  Will this one be as funny as the last?  What if it isn’t any good?  Will this be the last book of your career?

You sit paralyzed.  Fear that you will never write anything as good as your last book becomes a cold mist you can't find your way out of.

You start to wonder why you even thought you wanted to be a writer.

You wonder why you have this need to write, when those around you seem to be satisfied with their lives, and even happy, without ever putting themselves through this torture.

Imagine.  Being happy in life without writing fiction.  Would it be possible?

And then you get an email from a reader who loves your last book and is asking about the next.
And then your royalty statement arrives and it is something more than a meal out for two at Ruth’s Chris.
The black dog recedes for now.
You start writing.  The words become a torrent.  They hold you.  Feed you.  You’re whole again.
For now.


  1. "And then you get an email from a reader who loves your last book and is asking about the next."

    I just got such an email and it is a tremendous lift. I read it out loud to my son and he said "Everyone who reads your books loves them - just not enough people read them."

    The first part may not be 100% accurate, but it was as nice to hear as my fan mail was to read.

  2. Wow - Alison. What your son said is dead on. He is wise.
    And that is a terrific email to receive! Readers are wonderful when they do that - and I'll bet they don't know how much it means to us.

    1. I try to let them know... without sounding too needy of course. :)

  3. At least I now know where the dog is when its not at my house.

    1. Sandra, you have me smiling. It's a nomadic fellow.