Okay, I’ll come clean at the outset: the primary purpose of this post is probably personal catharsis. Of course, as always, I hope it will be at least interesting and possibly useful to you. But I won’t deny my reason for writing it is to process my own thoughts and feelings on the subject of writing the difficult second book; something in which I’m thoroughly immersed at the moment while facing a looming deadline.
It isn’t easy.
But writing a novel at all isn’t easy. It wasn’t easy to write the first one. And while so many things about writing the second novel are very similar to writing the first – for example, the fundamentals of story structure, character development, world building, and so on – there are qualitative differences in the experience.
It is just so much harder.
Reasons Why it’s Harder to Write the Second Book
Why am I finding it so much more difficult to write this book, the second in my current trilogy? After all, the basic idea of the story was there even before I embarked on writing the first book and I’ve already completed the first draft. The trilogy was conceived as a trilogy at the outset. And of course I now have the experience of planning, writing, and completing a novel under my belt. Surely, with the benefit of all the lessons I’ve learned, skills developed, and knowledge gained in writing the first book, the second should be easier to write?
But it isn’t. And a quick Google search informs me that finding the second novel harder than the first is quite a common experience. That, I suppose, should be comforting. But with the deadline for the second novel creeping closer day by day, the cover design and artwork already underway, and it still languishing unfinished, despite grappling with it on a daily basis, it’s cold comfort at best.
I’d like to say, to avoid misunderstanding, I am not complaining. This is not a lament. It’s an attempt at self-analysis, an attempt to understand the mechanisms in play. Because, of course, I will finish this novel and it will be darned good. Because it’s my job, and the job must be done.
The Stuff and Nonsense About Writer’s Block
I’ve made a point very publicly of denying the existence of “writer’s block”. I’ve always said there’s no such thing; that it’s simply an excuse for shirking the work on those days when writing is difficult, challenging, hard and the results pitifully poor. I have advocated now for several years the application of a grim kind of discipline and an unforgiving rigidity in maintaining your writing schedule. I still believe that. So I know I don’t have writers block.
But I think I can tell you, quite honestly, what the problem is.
Deep breath. Here goes: I’m afraid. The problem is fear. And it’s not just a nagging anxiety. It’s something more akin to a profound and mortal dread. It’s almost paralyzing. That’s why I am struggling with this book. I am terrified of failure. Terrified that it’s going to be crap.
If anyone who might be thinking of buying it is now reading this, please don’t be put off! Because I will not succumb to this fear. As my colleague and friend Michael Jecks (you can find out more about Michael and buy his books here) has pointed out several times, facing raw fear is just part of a writer’s daily life. Writing is always frightening. There is always the threat of failure. But with the second book the sense of it is inordinately strong.
Now why should that be?
The Burden of Expectations
Well, I think the bar of expectation has been somewhat raised. The first time round I had never published a book before. No one had any idea what to expect and it was perfectly possible that the book would have been ill received. It could have been complete crap. And because it was the first, I had permission to fail.
Ah, what a double-edged sword this business is!
You see, it wasn’t crap! It isn’t. While I can’t claim to have sold huge numbers of books, it continues to sell steadily, has been highly praised, and garnered some splendid reviews. Seems people like it. More than like it: they’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and eagerly await the next installment.
So I think that’s the core and the heart of the difficulty. There’s now a certain expectation. And it’s an expectation that I want to live up to. Actually, I need to do better than that. The difficult second book has to outshine the previous one in every sense. I now know that I could write the first one. I still don’t know if I’m writing a better one.
Of course, until I finish this and it’s been published and my readers have given it a try, I still won’t know.
It’s Not the Book – it’s YOU!
Working these ideas through, leads me to the realization that there’s nothing about this book which is technically more difficult or complex than the previous one. The principles of story structure have not changed. The rules of grammar and syntax are the same as ever they were. My protagonists and the world in which they dwell are already well developed from the first book. So from a purely rational point of view, this book must be no more difficult to write than the first. Lordy, it really should be easier!
The book isn’t the problem. I am the problem. But I have to write the book! So that’s what I need to sort out. It’s not a plot problem, the choice of words, or this or that technical issue. It’s my relationship with the book. The difficult second book itself has every chance of being a winner. I just have to stop getting in the way of that.
A Light Bulb Moment
*PING* It seems suddenly obvious. There is no reason why this book should not be the wonderful slice of storytelling I aim to make it. I just have to let this fear go. Perhaps writers as a species are fundamentally insecure creatures. I know that, despite having had a long career in theater and television performing before a public, I’m fundamentally a very shy and nervous person. Most of my writer friends are out-and-out introverts. Some of them are practically recluses!
You Are Not Alone Struggling with the Difficult Second Book
And I’m not alone in finding this second book writing thing hard. Almost every writer I’ve spoken to has referred in various ways to the difficulty of getting the second novel out there. The third, trusting the second is well received, should be a breeze.
As always then, what it comes down to is just bucking my ideas up, ratcheting up my discipline, laughing in the face of fear, and simply getting on with it. Being heroic, that’s the ticket.
And I have to recall that I’m no judge of my own work. The editor and then the readers decide my fate!
Hey, thanks for listening. That was real therapy. And you might like to know that by lending me your listening ear you helped get Book Two closer to market! Give yourself a pat on the back. If you’re struggling with your own difficult second book, I hope this sharing of my experience might help you, too. If you take anything away with you, aside from my gratitude, perhaps it’s an instance in which those famous words from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first Inaugural Address are really true. So let’s end with them:
“…let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Sign up to the Clockwork Press mailing list. You’ll get the first two books in the Dark Sea Trilogy absolutely free in the e-book format of your choice. Crazy, isn’t it? But it’s true.
If you’d rather buy them or just prefer a paperback, the first in the series, Beyond the Starline, is here: Amazon UKAmazon USWaterstonesBarnes & NobleSmashwordsKobo or ask for it in your library or local independent bookstore and they’ll order it for you.
If you have any questions or comments, I’ll be more than happy to help if I can, or just connect and share experiences, thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Leave a comment and share the post on your social media if you’ve found this interesting. That is absolutely the loveliest way to say thank you to a blogger!
Image credits: all images (apart from the book covers of my novels) are in the Public Domain and were sourced via the Creative Commons. Click on the image to reveal the name of the artist and the work in the address bar.