If you've written a book and people have read it and liked it, then you have set a bar for yourself, right? The next book has to be better. And you think about how much work went into the first book, and how proud you were when it was finished, and how sometimes you weren't even sure how you'd managed to tell the story, so how are you supposed to do it again!?
Now you have to start all over again. From scratch.
Don't get me wrong: there is an incredible excitement that comes from a new story and new characters (or revisiting old characters from a new perspective, in the case of sequels). But if you start to think about what you have to do to make this one more, to make it better, to make it exceed expectations,
Sequels can seem even more this way. When you have a standalone book, you still might feel like you need to exceed yourself on the next book, but with sequels, you might feel the need to exceed in your writing and your previously created world. Either way, it's a lot of pressure we put on ourselves as writers.
Pressure isn't always a bad thing. It can push you to keep going, to improve, to make your writing better--if it's channeled constructively. It can also crush you under its weight if you're not careful. It can suck you into the despair of I won't be good enough this time. Look at my last polished manuscript. Look at the hours I put into it and the three thousand revisions it got and look at how nice it is. Look how messy this book I'm working on right now is. It's never going to be that good.
There became other fears once publication was involved. What if the next book isn't good enough to publish? What if no one likes it?
I've been finding that if I focus on whether the books I'm currently writing are better than the ones I previously wrote, it takes away my joy in writing the story and makes me stall on writing at all. I need to be able to let the story come out, to follow the characters and see what adventures they take me on, and if I'm holding this giant ball of expectation over my head, it's going to be a huge struggle to write anything.
Should we always be trying to grow and improve and make our writing better? Absolutely. Should we have no expectations on ourselves? Of course not. Should we be putting so much pressure on ourselves to try to outdo ourselves that we lose faith with what we're writing? No. Like so many, many things in writing, there's a balance, and learning how you work best, and learning how to improve without letting your writing dry up or giving yourself a panic attack.
Sometimes, we just need to give ourselves permission to write. To write knowing it won't be perfect, and parts of it will probably be horrible and in need of a lot of work, and that all this book needs to be right now is written on its own standards. The more you practice writing, the more you learn and grow, and your writing will likely reflect that growth anyway.
Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself when you're writing? Do you find it makes you focus better or does it make your writing train derail?