As Shakespeare had King Henry IV claim, ‘uneasy lies a head that wears a crown’. In my experience, that quotation aptly describes one of the main differences between the me about to have my first novel launched, and the me who sits back all of a-tremble as the publication of my latest DI Bliss book hoves into view.
In my case, it’s nothing to do with being a King, of course. I’m a court jester at best. Codpiece tester at worst. No, the way I see it, it’s more a question of expectation having replaced trepidation. Because when Bad to the Bone was released, few people outside my family and friends knew my name. Even some of them got it wrong. And the majority of them had no clue what my book was like. So whilst I was anxious, nervous, and frankly bricking it waiting for those initial reviews to emerge, I understood that this book would only establish a baseline. For those who read it, Bad to the Bone was the book upon which my next piece of work would be judged. But the first DI Bliss book itself started with a clean slate, which now that I look back, was a huge advantage.
It's a strange dichotomy, because despite always wanting to learn and improve, I now find that with each book the pressure increases out of all proportion to any modest success I may have had with the previous one. So far, I genuinely believe that I have improved with each completed novel, but part of that might be because I started from a pretty low baseline.
Yet, I know that at some point I am going to write a book which is not an improvement. It happens to every author, even the greats. It might even happen for a few consecutive books. But then they’ll get back on track again. And it’s not that the books showing no improvement are necessarily bad, simply that they did not advance the author’s craft. But that’s still some pressure to work under, even if it’s only self-imposed.
You start off writing purely for yourself, and provided you can type THE END and feel good about it, you’ve succeeded in what you set out to do. But then suddenly you’re writing for a publisher, an editor, and then you gain a following and before you know it you’re writing with them in the back of your mind as well. You want to please them. You certainly don’t want to let them down. And then all at once that weight of expectation is occupying the chair with you. It’s casting a pall across your mind, It’s guiding your fingers on the keyboard, and it’s crushing your chest and constricting your throat as you stare at a blank page and wonder where your next gem of a line is coming from.
Eventually you overcome the inertia. You have to. You pull on your blinkers and you think only of the work in hand, no those that went before it, nor those to come. You block out your publisher, editor, beta readers and loyal supporters. You find that sweet spot in the moment, and you ride it for all it’s worth. The shackles have been ripped off, and you remember what it felt like when you were writing only to please you. You’re back in the game, and it’s crucial because only then are you truly writing from the heart.
Will I have expectations of the next book I write? Of course. I already do, being about seventy percent of the way through the first draft of my next DI Bliss book. I’m already comparing its quality against The Death of Justice. I’m already imagining how those readers who closely follow Bliss’s exploits will feel about this one. Yet experience has taught me that I’ll eventually shrug all of that off, and will begin to see the book in its own light, revealing its own worth. That doesn’t prevent this band from tightening across my chest like a tourniquet being twisted into place to cut off my blood flow, nor does it help with the negative thoughts assaulting me as I work.
But it will. It will. I’m sure it will.