I usually like to eat my feelings away, one cheesy corn-snack at a time, or drink them into oblivion with a nice glass or two of red wine. Mostly, I like to bury them in the deep, deep sands of denial. But apparently, writing your feelings down is supposed to be cathartic and therapeutic. Thankfully, I like to write, so there’s some hope of getting through this period of emotional turmoil without ending up with diabetes or cirrhosis of the liver.
I am supposed to be starting my second novel today, and as you can see, instead of doing that I’m writing this blog post. So why amn’t I writing my novel? I have everything I need to begin: a good idea, experience and I know the process. The prospect of starting that magical first draft process anew should fill me with anticipation, excitement and happy tingles.
And yet? And yet.
I am terrified.
For all of you embarking on your second novel, I’d love to tell you that having finished a novel you’ll be brimming with confidence. That you’ll strut to your desk with a popped collar, crack your knuckles and get to work– you probably won’t. You’ll likely be full of apprehension and procrastinate for a long time. Like me.
Here are five reasons why you, and I, are freaking out about writing novel #2:
1. The second novel is notoriously difficult
The myth of the difficult second novel will have drilled its way into your psyche by now. If it hasn’t, I just popped it in there. Sorry about that. Obviously, if you keep hearing that something is going to be difficult, it fills you with dread. If professional, successful, published authors feel that fear, then it is normal for you and me to feel it too.
I remember draft #1 of my first novel so well. Before I started I read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. King advised me that magic was involved. That magic is what carries you from day to day. You don’t know where the words and ideas are springing from, but they come. It was surprisingly easy to write 2000 words or more every day. I had the ‘writing fever’ as JK Rowling likes to call it. What if you can’t conjure that magic again the second time around? I suppose we need to just try and remember the feelings we had before starting the first book, and how well it all turned out in the end– in other words, we need to have faith in the process.
2. This novel won’t be as good as the first
This is a danger. I mean, this is a real danger. But the way I’ve decided to look at this is: reactions to the stories themselves are totally subjective. Whether a story is more interesting or engaging than another, is entirely down to the reader. If you would read it, then write it. You’re as good a judge as anyone else. When it comes to the objective stuff, such as the quality of the writing, you should be able to craft a better novel the second time around. Or at least, you should find it easier to craft a good novel the second time around. We know the wrong turns we took the first time around, and we know how to avoid them.
3. My Second Novel is too Similar/Different to the First
Published authors embarking on their second novel are terrified of trying something new but equally terrified of writing something too similar to the last novel. Some readers like familiarity. They feel that reading their favourite author should be like putting on a pair of comfy, well-worn slippers at the end of the day. This mostly applies to genre fiction or serial fiction. And I love a bit of genre fiction now and again. I love to put on those comfy slippers and relax.
Other readers love to see the range of what one writer can do. I’m also this kind of reader. I don’t mean that I want the writer to jump from one genre to another, but if the writer is ‘genreless’, I like to be surprised. I crave a completely new experience from that same writer. If I discover a really good author, I trust them to write something good and to write something compelling. Something that I can’t possibly predict.
Margaret Atwood is one of my favourite authors because she manages to do both. She writes a lot of dystopian fiction, but she doesn’t limit herself to that, so I don’t count her as a genre writer. Each of her novels differs in voice and content, and whilst some, like Oryx and Crake, are as funny as they are dark, some are very serious in their tone such as The Handmaid’s Tale. When it comes to placing those two books side by side, you’d think they were written by two different authors. I think that’s an amazing feat to pull off without compromising on the quality of the writing itself. When I pick up a Margaret Atwood novel, I’m guaranteed three things:
(a) A gripping story
(b) A well-written story
(c) It will be different to her last.
I trust her to deliver, whatever the content of the book. I hope that if I can have her confidence and attitude, my novel, despite being very different, will be as good as my first. I hope that when they are published, my readers will trust me to produce something good every time, and not worry that one book differs too much from the last.
Of course, Margaret Atwood can get away with this stuff because she’s Margaret Atwood. Margaret Atwood is in a position to do whatever the hell she likes at this stage, but who’s to say that one day you won’t be nipping at her ankles, as you rise through the ranks. Who’s to say you can’t make diversity work for you.
4. You won’t love this book the way you loved your first
At times, when I was writing my first novel, I felt an incandescent rage towards it. When the characters weren’t behaving or the plot just wouldn’t knit together and I couldn’t think of solutions…or because it felt like the editing would never end. But mostly, I loved my book. I adored the characters, the island, the plot– all of the things that I had created. They made me feel things. They made me happy. They made me proud. I couldn’t think of anything else during the first draft phase. And I know that my novel is far from perfect, but even with its flaws I still love it.
I’m the oldest child in my family. I remember when my mother confided in me that she was scared, when pregnant the second time, that she couldn’t love my sister as much as she loved me. I mean, I was totally adorable, so I understand her concerns. She thought it was impossible for her to love another person to the same extent– that there wasn’t enough love to go around and I would always have the lion’s share. Then she had my sister, Lois, and she just found that the capacity in her heart grew, and yes, she could love us both equally without diluting her love for me or giving my sister less. Though I suspect that I am secretly her favourite child, she assures me that love doesn’t have to be divided up, it can simply grow.
I hope that applies to novel #2.
Or else, I’m hoping it’ll be like my first love– a defining period in my life but something I ultimately learn from and move on. And the second novel might even (inconceivable right now, but possibly) be better.
5. It’s going to be daaaaamn hard
Having already had a spin on the merry-go-round that is writing a novel we know how lonely, how rocky, how emotional and how long a road it will be. I think it’s natural to be a bit hesitant about starting the entire process all over again.
We need to just keep reminding ourselves: it is so worth it.