Hell, Yes, I Have Regrets

I confess: I’m jealous of Louise and Jenny, with their nonexistent and paltry lists of regrets. Because I do have regrets. Not so much on the real life side of the equation, where I share their look-forward-not-back attitude, but on the authorial side. And, being as how one of our missions here on the Ball is to offer guidance by reverse example, I am going to list them all right here in hopes that others can do as I didn’t do.

(1) Sitting in the Ladies’ Room of the Club For Too Long

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know I’m a tortured victim of Imposter Syndrome. Mostly this makes me feel like I take up oxygen that could be breathed by other more worthy writers, and that any compliment I receive is a bald-faced lie motivated by pity. But it also made me do something I very much regret: I didn’t take advantage of my club membership soon enough.

When a publisher buys your book, that contract makes you a member of a very exclusive club. For me, this was like getting invited to the birthday party of the most popular girl in school. I walked in, took one look at everybody else, and decided my dress was horrible, my shoes were worse, and nobody was ever going to talk to me. I immediately fled to the bathroom, where I spent the better part of a year hiding in one of the stalls, nursing my drink, and listening to the chatter of the other members as they came and went. But as I listened (this is an extended metaphor for lurking in closed writers’ Facebook groups, by the way), I realized those demigods weren’t all that different from me. They worried about book sales. They lamented their publicists’ maternity leaves. They asked one another for advice, and….they helped one another. When I mustered the courage to open the door and engage in the conversation, I not only found mentors, I found friends, and, once in a while, I had advice of my own to share.

Bottom line: when someone invites you to join a club, start shaking hands and buy a round of drinks.

(2) Comparing Myself to Other Writers

I am not an envious person, and what I’m about to describe wasn’t really envy. It was a relentless compulsion to measure myself against other writers’ successes to try and analyze where I stood in the publishing industry. If Annie Author’s unpublished book has 150 Goodreads reviews, and mine has only 5, doesn’t that mean hers is more buzzy, and will sell more copies? If Addie Author’s book that launches the week before mine shows up on three “Best Books of Summer” lists, and mine shows up on none, doesn’t that mean the same? This made me crazy for about two months before I got myself in hand. It wasn’t that I begrudged any of these people their reviews and lists, it’s just that I was so terrified my book would bomb that I looked for proof of this impending disaster under every rock.

Do not pick up the rocks.

Seriously. Step away from the rocks.

(3) Not Starting The Second Novel Sooner

Oh, this one I’m paying for in blood. When I finished my substantive revisions for my editor, I should have started writing my next book. Looking back at those months, which now seem like a nirvana of space and time, I can’t imagine why I didn’t. I guess I was distracted by the grinding wheels of the publication process, but whatever was going on then was nothing compared to the hamster wheel I’m on two months before my launch date. Not that I’m doing anything now, either. But I’m about to do a bunch of stuff, I think, and the thought of what might be coming has frozen my right brain into a state of paralysis while the left brain busily researches book bloggers, sends thank-you notes to blurbers, tweets, and emails bookstores to try to set up readings. Back in January? What was I even doing? I can’t remember, but I should have been writing.

So: start your second book before the third trimester of your pregnancy with the first. I’ve managed to scrape together a few chapters along the way, but I really wish I had it about halfway done. It would make me feel so much better.

On the positive side, while I’ll never have another debut novel, the lessons I’ve learned on the way to publishing it will carry forward if I publish a second. I’ll be a proud member of the club from the jump. I won’t compare my success with anybody else’s. And I’ll start the third book as soon as the ink is dry on the contract. Yes, I wish I’d done those things the first time around, but that’s the whole point of regret, isn’t it? To learn to do it better the next time. And, hopefully, to keep others from doing it wrong to begin with.

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After a decade practicing law and another decade raising kids, Heather decided to finally write the novel she'd always talked about writing. She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and the Tin House Writers Workshop, all of which helped her stop writing like a lawyer. She lives in Mill Valley, California, with her husband and two teenaged children. When she's not writing she's biking, hiking, neglecting potted plants, and reading books by other people that she wishes she'd written.

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