You have spoken on you blog about the pressures of writing your second book. Can you walk me through what that experience was like for you? How did you push through?
I got depressed, to put it bluntly. Suddenly there were thousands of people I could disappoint. It took me a while to understand I was depressed, however, because I didn't feel sad or anything. I felt stupid, like my brain had stopped working. I was actually worried it was early onset Alzheimer's. Once I finally admitted to myself what was going on, I told my agent and editor. I was scared to tell them, but it turned out to be the smartest thing I could have done. They were kind and understanding, and they basically said to me, "There's no book without you. Do what you need to do, and come back when you're ready." I took some time off from writing and took care of myself. So it wasn't really a matter of pushing through so much as stopping, regrouping, and coming back.
Your second YA fantasy novel came out only two years after your first. How long did it take you to write your debut versus your second? For your second, did you feel any pressure to write on a timeline?
It was actually three years, which was faster than the nine years for my first book, but longer than my publisher probably wished. In YA, particularly, there is pressure to write quickly. Kids grow up fast, is the reasoning, and if you take too long, your audience will have forgotten you. I am actually quite lucky in that my editor's attitude has always been, "A book takes as long as it takes." He's very supportive, which I need. However, even with him telling me to take my time, I still felt the pressure. I'm the kind of person who puts pressure on herself, and when I see other writers putting out a book a year, I start to feel inadequate. Only now, on my fourth book, do I feel like I really have a handle on accepting that my process is what it is, and not comparing myself to others.
"I've learned to take joy in what I'm doing in the moment, and letting that be my focus rather than deadlines, word-count, or other people's successes."
What was the hardest part of writing a second book? What was the best part?
The hardest part (besides getting depressed!) was the fact that everything in the first book was basically set in stone, and it was too late to change my mind about any of it. Apparently I solve problems by throwing out things that aren't working and coming up with a whole new idea. Now, I had to honor every ridiculous commitment I'd made in the first book. Seraphina had seventeen other half-dragons to find, for example, and it was too late to decide that was way too many to fit into one book.
The best part of that particular book, weirdly, was what I learned about myself. I need art therapy to be happy. Writing had been my therapy, but it was now the source of pressure. I took up singing, and it has made a huge difference in my life.
As an author who has now published multiple books, what have you learned about the writing process that has helped you avoid the pressures and fears you felt with your second?
I've learned to take joy in what I'm doing in the moment, and letting that be my focus rather than deadlines, word-count, or other people's successes. I've learned that I need to be doing some kind of art that my ego and income are not bound up in (in my case, singing). And I've taken to heart what my agent and editor tried to tell me, something all writers probably need to hear occasionally: there is no book without YOU. Publishing can feel like you're being put through a machine, but you have more power than it sometimes seems. Be kind to yourself. Burnout is real. It's ok to step away for as long as you need to.
Rachel Hartman's debut, Seraphina, and her sophomore novel, Shadow Scale, are both available now.