Tuesday, 29 January 2019
How I Survived Second Novel Syndrome
I've just looked at the title of this post and I feel rather satisfied with the alliteration which was totally unintentional. It's nice when things just work for you... unlike second novels.
Yes, this post is all about the dreaded 'second novel syndrome'. Those of you who are writers and have written more than one book will know what I'm talking about and, even if you haven't experienced it yourself, you will probably have heard of someone who has. As experiences go, it really isn't that great.
So what is second novel syndrome?
Well, it's exactly what it says on the tin. It's the problem that arises when you've written a novel you're happy with and then have to do the same thing again... just as well or even better.
Let me set the scene. You've spent months or years writing your first novel, have had it read by beta readers, have maybe had a critique (such as the one you get if you're on the RNA NWS), you've fiddled and changed and fussed and made it as perfectly perfect as it can possibly be. What you've had is TIME. Time to let the idea brew, time to write, time to get it just as you want it. While you've been writing, you've had no one breathing down your neck, no deadlines (unless you've made your own - and these can be broken without penalty), no one 'waiting' for your next book with expectations. You've been able to write when you like and, if you've not felt like it, could leave your computer and do something else.
Basically, you've been your own master.
Then something wonderful happens. You manage to find yourself an agent, or, as I did, approach some publishers yourself. You're offered a two-book, or maybe even a three-book, deal (is there such a thing as third book syndrome?) and even as you're popping open the champagne, you know that, already, things have changed. At last you're going to be a published author but you will no longer be travelling this path alone. Joining you will be your agent (if you have one), your editor and, eventually, your readers.
Your first novel has been accepted but now your editor is asking you what you have in mind for the second one. Could you write an outline? A synopsis? Inside your head you're screaming, but I haven't had time to think up something as good as novel one. I need years.
Hard luck - you'll have to think of something fast!
So you delve into the farthest reaches of your imagination and, amazingly, manage to dredge up an idea you think might work. You get something down on paper and, to your surprise, your editor likes it. So far so good. The problem is, this time you don't have years to write the thing. Depending on your publisher, you might get only a few months AND it will have to be written at the same time you're working on the edits, publication and marketing of book one.
Not only this, but all the time you're writing your second novel, you are doing it under the weight of expectation. If this one's not as good as the first, there will be a lot of people you'll be letting down... your agent, your editor and, most importantly, your readers.
This is where the doubt kicks in and the niggling voice in your head becomes more insistent. Am I just a one-trick pony? Do I only have the one good book in me? Do I deserve to be writing this second novel? Would I be better off sweeping chimneys?
And the suffering hasn't finished yet. While you're writing your second novel, the characters from your first will still be with you as you edit and proofread their story. As you try to cast an entirely new set of characters for novel two, they'll be whispering in your ear, these people are boring. Who would want to spend time with them when they're not as engaging as us?
The doubt becomes stronger. You lose your powers of objectivity. Around thirty thousand words, you think that every sentence you write sounds trite and the nearer to the end you get, the more you feel like an impostor.
That's where I was last week as I wrote THE END to novel two whilst in the thick of edits for novel one. As I pressed 'send' and waited for my editor to read it, I have to admit to being scared (even though she is lovely). What if she hated it?
Thankfully, I didn't have to wait too long. Withing a few days, my editor came back to me. She didn't hate it... or tear up my contract! In fact, although we'll need to do some work on it, she said it was a very strong second novel with a twist that was even better than the first. I could have cried with relief.
The moral of this story: I experienced second novel syndrome and I survived. And, if I can, so can you!