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How to Get Through Writing the Difficult Second Book

Posted in creativity, discipline, Editors, Getting published, how to be a prolic writer, Independent Publishing, Learning to Write, Productivity for creatives, prolific writer, Publishing, self publishing, The debut novel, Writing a novel, and Writing Tips

writing the difficult second book

Catharsis

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.

But why?

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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.

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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?

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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!

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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!

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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.”

UPDATE: the first book was published on February 14th 2016. The second book was published 1st August 2016.
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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.


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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!

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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.

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6 Comments

  1. I can relate to everything you just said Austin. I’m in the final stages of getting my own book 2 ready for publication this summer, and I have to say it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I’m drained, exhausted, and it’s not even finished yet. I put it down to the fact the bar has been raised. With the second book we challenge ourselves to be better than before. And of course, there is that fear of all our hard work being a flop, but we have to keep going. Chances are we become better writers with each book we write. I guess when book 2 is out there and doing well, we’ll relax and have confidence while writing book 3. We’ll know the good reception of our debuts wasn’t a fluke. All we can do is have belief in ourselves and keep writing.

    I’m looking forward to The Island of Birds!

    April 29, 2016
    |Reply
  2. austin.hackney@hotmail.co.uk
    austin.hackney@hotmail.co.uk

    Hi Joanne!

    Thank you so much for dropping by, reading, and leaving a comment. I really appreciate your words of solidarity!

    It seems a bit rum to say I was pleased to read your suffering is comparable to my own – but I only mean it perhaps shows both of us that it’s a common and necessary process which we will most likely survive. And we’ll not only survive, but come out the other side with shining second novels to show for it. Right? *nervously seeks further affirmation*

    I have every faith in your writing. Reading “London Shadows” has been of the highlights of my year so far. Your authenticity shines through. Perhaps that’s what we have to trust – our authenticity, not just our authorship. Let’s not compare the second book to the first. Let’s just immerse ourselves in it, tell the story as truly as we can. The rest should take care of itself.

    Thanks again, Joanne. Onward!

    April 29, 2016
    |Reply
  3. This was spot on, Austin. I had the exact same problem when I started writing the second novel in my own trilogy. Surprisingly, I haven’t been as nervous with Book Three, though crippling self-doubt has made itself known from time to time since starting it. One difference I’ve noticed is how I handle it compared to the first two books; where a bad day could equal little to no writing, with this one, I plow on. I can only hope this means I’ve evolved as a writer, and will be able to handle the things you have before, during, and after publication as well as you’ve managed to.

    Everything you said–about the pressure to not let the second be a flop, needing it to be on par or better than the first, and getting into the proper mentality to do it–all jive with me.

    Thanks so much for this blog, for your honesty in how the process has made you feel. 🙂 There’s comfort to be had, knowing someone as talented and dedicated as you has felt the same way.

    October 15, 2016
    |Reply
    • Austin Hackney
      Austin Hackney

      Hi Shannon.

      Thanks for your generous comments. You are very kind.

      It seems that you are growing as a writer through this process, judging by what you’ve said. The key is to “keep calm and carry on” recognizing that all problems are simply new gifts with tough wrapping, nothing will ever be perfect, and everything is worth striving for in its own right, with or without reward.

      I’m glad this resonated with you and helped you along your way. That’s what the blog is for! I have every confidence in you. And I assure you, any talent I have is the 1% which would remain invisible without the 99% of hard work I put into it.

      October 16, 2016
      |Reply
      • That’s a good attitude to have. 🙂 “…all problems are simply new gifts with tough wrapping”. I like that very much. Thanks so much for your confidence, and for continuing to be a dedicated writer and writerly mentor. ^^ You’ve definitely earned your place amongst my favourites.

        October 16, 2016
        |Reply
        • Austin Hackney
          Austin Hackney

          Hi Shannon,

          I’m happy to help. We’re all in this together and much more is achieved by kindness and cooperation than any alternative course of action I’m aware of!

          Thank you for you kind words. 🙂

          October 16, 2016
          |Reply

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