When I set out to write my first novel, all I had was an idea and the belief I could write the story. Whether I could write a good story, well, that remained (remains?) to be seen. Nonetheless, I took up the challenge. As I thought through my story idea, I realized it was too big to tell in a single book. At least that’s what I believed. Who knows if it’s true. Maybe a better writer could have done it.
But this left me with a challenge. I knew how the story ended, but that was Book Three. I wasn’t about to write an incomplete book, so I needed to develop a complete story for book one. I tried to plot and outline, but that was elusive. How was I supposed to know what my characters would face until I wrote the scenes? I couldn’t conceptualize the story for the life of me–it had to flow out of me.
I have no doubt all you plotters are horrified by this, while all the pantsers are nodding in agreement.
Since book one was all about discovery, it was easy to write. It’s a straightforward sci-fi adventure with some twists and surprises along the way. Through the process of writing, I found my endgame and brought Book One to a close.
Now for Book Two.
Stop the Presses
That sound you hear is my writing coming to a screeching halt.
Once again, I know what needs to happen in Book Two, but, once again, I don’t know the endgame. For over a year now, this has paralyzed me. I’ve found every reason to procrastinate Book Two. On the plus side, my distractions were all “writerly” things. I performed another extensive round of edits for Book One (nope, make that TWO extensive edits now), built a new website, pitched every agent on the planet–twice, wrote a flash fiction story, started blogging weekly, recorded a pretty lame attempt at stand-up comedy, finished my second digital marketing book (yet to be published), completed a 5K-word short story, and did plenty of “research” (aka watching movies.)
And yet I’m still unmotivated to dive into Book Two.
I’ve heard people say that an author’s second book is the hardest to write. While knee-deep in book one, the ideas were flowing. But here I am looking Book Two in the eye, and I got nothing.
So why is the second book so much harder? I can only speak for myself, but I’ve zeroed in on a few roadblocks that have stumbled into my path. I’m hoping that by recognizing them, I can work my way through and past them. Let’s give it a shot.
When I wrote my first novel, I wasn’t an author. I was just a regular guy who wanted to write a novel. I was determined to finish it but, I’ve attempted several novels before, and, well, they remain unfinished. Once Book One was complete and edited to perfection (or as good as I can get it), I truly felt that I became an author.
Regular-guy me had nothing to lose. But author-me actually does. It’s like trying to make lightning strike twice. They say it can’t be done, but as authors, we must. We have to make magic happen with every book. That tends to create a bit of performance anxiety in me. Can I do it again? Is my idea good enough? Do I even know what the story behind the story is? Holy crap, how am I ever going to do this?
The Expectation of Expectations
At the time of this writing, no one besides a couple dozen beta readers have read Book One. Believe it or not, that’s a mixed sword (and a double-edged metaphor). The feedback I received from my betas was enough to give me delusions of grandeur. This means my audience, most of whom have not yet read Book One, will have high expectations for Book Two. It’s one thing to write the next story I want to tell. It’s quite another to write a story that lives up to the expectations of an existing fan base.
But the flip side of my metaphorical-sword is that I have no fan base yet. Which kinda feels like I wrote Book One for nobody. That was a lot of time, energy, and effort that’s doing nothing but sitting, waiting for an agent to like it enough, or for me to pull the self-publish trigger. Without a fan base, I’m unmotivated to do it all again. I know we’re supposed to write for ourselves and all, but so much work goes into writing a book, I’d rather not feel like I wasted it all on myself.
Less Time and More To Do
Speaking of time, I spent around 20 hours each week writing my Book One. It took a year. Now, technically, I still have that same 20 hours per week at my disposal, but my “writing” time is far more divided than it was before. I suddenly find that I have so much more to do.
Instead of 20 hours per week going into Book Two, My time is now divided with a bunch of other things. Things like writing this post (and many more like it), building an audience, pushing out a regular newsletter, and other things that (hopefully) showcase my “talents.”
It doesn’t help that I’m the type of person that if I don’t have dedicated time for something, I don’t like doing it. I’ll always opt for the easier things first to knock them out. I can always find something to do instead of getting into the Book Two headspace.
The Haunting of Book One
When I wrote Book One, I was energized. Everything was new. But Book Two feels like getting out of the shower and putting on the underwear I just took off. Doesn’t matter if they were clean a few minutes ago, they were unshowered-body-clean, not showered-body-clean. You know what I mean? There’s a difference.
All my author powers went into building an incredible world. I’m not sure if there’s anything left for me to introduce. All the cool things I thought of, well, I have to think of all new cool things. And it has to be equally as cool, if not more cooler.
And then there’s the characters. With Book Two, I have to write old characters that are the same, but not too same. I have to keep what readers love about them without turning them a cliche of themselves, using the same bag of tricks. I also have to introduce new characters in a way that doesn’t feel like I’m just trying to introduce new characters. And, of course, I have to answer the dangling threads I left open in Book One. Talk about pressure!
Writing is haaaaard
Anybody who says writing is easy either has magical powers or has never truly written anything. If I knew how hard it was to write a novel when I set out to write Book One, I might never have done it. It was a complete learning process. Daily. Not just writing the story but then editing it into a better and better and better story. There’s more mechanics involved in writing a novel than there are in Iron Man’s suit.
For me, writing the first draft was the easiest part, yet somehow that’s the part I dread the most. But that’s because coming up with an engaging story is hard too. It’s more than just writing words; it’s putting them together in a compelling way that keeps readers on the edge of their seat, wanting to know what’s going to happen next. And that, too, is haaaaard.
Solution: Have a Book One Mindset
I’m not there yet, but I suspect that many of the issues above will come into play again with Books Three, Four, and so on. It’s not just a Book Two problem, it’s a writer problem. Which means I fully expect to run into this over and over and over.
Which also means, there’s got to be a solution. And I think I found it.
I’ve concluded that writing Book Two (or Three, Four, etc.) would be easier if I hadn’t written Book One. So I’m going to do something illogical. I’m going to forget I ever wrote Book One. I’m going to pretend I’m not an author, that I have no audience, that no one has any expectations, and forget what I know about the difficulties of writing.
I’ll give myself temporary amnesia and pretend I’m right back where I was when I sat down to write Book One. Back when I didn’t know what I was capable of or even if I could get a whole story on paper. Before I knew a thing about the editing process or what weak or passive verbs were. Back when I had no idea what the end of the story was going to be.
I’m just going to write. No pressure, no expectations. Just me and a silly idea. After all, I figured it all out once before. I can certainly do it again.
And so can you.