Swoon Author Kristen Orlando: The Sophomore Slump Is Real
In college, the “Sophomore Slump” for me was very real. My freshman year at Kenyon College was so thrilling. Newfound freedom, exhilarating classes, and budding friendships kept me busy and excited the entire year. But during my sophomore year—by the time the colorful leaves fell upon Middle Path and the long, gray days of winter rolled into Gambier, Ohio—I found myself in a true slump. Bored by the same-old parties, Saturday morning hook-up stories, and class lectures, my best friend and I commiserated one evening about how lost we felt. A twin emptiness settled into our guts in late November and didn’t seem to lift until spring. When it came to writing my second book, the sophomore slump of the publishing world crept back into my stomach, curled up, and took a long nap.
There was a mean girl who occupied my mind while I wrote You Won't Know I'm Gone. She told me on a daily basis that my first book “was a fluke” and that “Swoon is going to find out you can’t write” and “your agent is totally going to laugh at this draft.” She was vicious and cruel and very hard to ignore. She made me question every paragraph and every word. Imposter syndrome struck me down hard.
Another reason You Won't Know I'm Gone was so difficult to write was the story and what my main character, Reagan Hillis, was going through. Without giving too much away, You Don't Know My Name ends with a tragic loss, something that sends Reagan spiraling into a dark and depressed state. You know how there are method actors? Performers who completely encompass a character’s speech pattern, habits, and personality the entire time they’re on set? If there is such a thing as a method writer, I think I might be one. When I’m writing, I put myself into my main character’s emotional headspace. I imagine so deeply how they’re feeling, that I take on those emotions myself. After hours of writing in Reagan’s voice, I’d walk away from the book with an overwhelming sadness that was hard to shake.
So what pulled me out of the darkness? Gratitude. I’m lucky that my parents instilled in me the ability to take a step back, examine my life and be grateful for what I have. The opportunity to write books is something I’ve always dreamt about. It’s almost hard to put into words the gratitude I feel for the team at Swoon Reads for even picking my manuscript in the first place, let alone my appreciation for all the readers who have read my words. Gratitude finally pushed the mean girl out of my head and pulled me out of Reagan’s darkness.
I am happy to report that writing my third book was a breeze in comparison to writing You Won't Know I'm Gone. I tried not to let that mean girl back in my head (she didn’t move in, just occasionally showed up for tea) and I had so much fun with the third book! Any time I felt that self-doubt or darkness creep back in, I told myself “You get to write books. How cool is that?” and those cruel words would fall away.