I know what you’re thinking. Why do I need to read a blog post about Second Novel Syndrome, when I haven’t even finished the first?
Well, publishing is a funny thing. In January 2017, I wondered if I’d ever get a novel published. By March that same year, I had an agent and my book was in the London Book Fair catalogue.
When it happens, it can happen fast. [Ed’s Note: It kinda helps if you come to one of Jericho Writers’ events. That’s where the magic happened for our Sarah.]
What Is Second Novel Syndrome?
Second novel syndrome (SNS) isn’t talked about a lot. I spent twelve years writing books and trying to get an agent, and I didn’t think much about what would happen after that. Getting an agent felt like an impossible end goal.
Second books are actually notoriously difficult to write. I know – I didn’t think they would be, either. I wrote three ‘practice’ books before I made it with my debut. What’s the big deal about writing one more?
SNS Symptom #1 – You Have Way Less Time
I started my debut novel in July 2014. In 2015, I completely trashed the draft and started again. In 2016, I wrote my next draft as part of a writing course, and then completely changed it again in the summer of that year, thanks to some feedback from an agent.
All in all, the novel took me two and a half years to write – and then another year editing it with my agent and editors after that.
When I casually asked my agent when publishers expect an author’s second book, she said ‘usually a year after delivery of the first’.
Yep – a year.
Somewhere in that year, I had to come up with an astounding concept that was as good as the first. I had to research, plan and write a terrible first draft (that I could bin and re-write entirely, before no doubt re-writing again). All of this whilst trying to hold down a full-time job and all those other things that go with being a human being.
The cure: make more time
Certainly not an easy feat. For me, I’ve had to cut my working week to four days, so I have at least one day to donate entirely to writing. I work from home as much as I can, so I have more energy to write in the evenings.
This won’t be doable for everyone. Find the pockets of time you can squeeze out of your day, no matter how big or small, knuckle down and make that happen.
SNS Symptom #2 – You Now Have Multiple Projects On Your Hands
I’m a bit of a loyal writer. When I have my head in a book, it consumes me.
Over the last year, I’ve learnt that it’s not really possible to write a second book and have it consume you. I’ve had to split my time between writing my new book and editing my old one – occasionally dropping the new project completely to make a deadline.
Some writers are already brilliant at project juggling. For me – it’s been a big learning curve.
The cure: learn how to juggle projects
As your writing career progresses, you’re going to have more and more projects to juggle. When you’re writing your fifth book, you might still be doing events on your debut.
No one talks about it, but it is one of those skills you have to learn if you want to be a professional writer.
I’m still in the process of learning it, but so far, I’ve found that sectioning my working week can help differentiate between projects. In the morning, I could be working on debut edits from home. Then in the afternoon, I take my laptop to a café and I throw some words down for book two.
SNS Symptom #3 – You Can’t Shake Off Your Last Book
My debut was written in first person present, from the point of view of a girl with a distinctive voice and a weird way of seeing the world.
I’ve spent three and a half years with her, and I’m still with her now. She’s difficult to shake off.
I’ve written over a hundred first pages of my new novel, and they’re still not quite right. I need a new, equally distinctive, but completely different voice – but everything I write still seems to be about her.
The cure: get out of your comfort zone
If, like me, you’re struggling to find a new voice, try writing your story in a completely different way to your first.
For example, I’ve found writing in verse to be a helpful way in. Writing poetry means I can get to know my new character in a place my previous protagonist doesn’t belong.
Yes – I’ll probably scrap every word. But with first drafts, everything and anything you can write will help you reach the finish line.
SNS Symptom #4 – Your Next Book Needs To Be As Good As Your First
As a writer, I feel the need to impress. My agent is amazing – she fights in my corner and believes wholeheartedly in my writing. I want to hand her a new novel that is even more amazing than she thought my first one was.
Unfortunately, what I’m actually writing is terrible. I mean – of course it is. She saw my debut after two rewrites and a year of edits. All she’s going to see now is that first draft I’m going to throw away.
Knowing this doesn’t make it any easier.
And, of course, when we’re writing something we don’t think is as good as it could be, it can be difficult to keep going. It becomes easier to stop for a bit, maybe have a tidy up, or obsessively scour Pinterest for home décor ideas…
(Not that I do that.)
The cure: forget about other people
This one I definitely find the hardest, as I have a (somewhat ridiculous) need to please people.
The truth is though – other people don’t matter when it comes to first drafts. Anyone who writes, or who knows writing, will know that first drafts are for the writer to work out what it is they want to write.
First drafts of book two do not need to be as good as your finished debut.
And – all because you have an agent now, doesn’t mean you are suddenly a know-it-all, master writer. All writers need to keep learning and – importantly – keep making mistakes.
The important thing is that we keep writing. That’s the only way horrible first drafts get turned into published novels.
Second Novel Syndrome: A Cure
There is no complete cure for Second Novel Syndrome other than just doing it.
But do remember this:
Jericho Writers is a club for writers like you. Like us, in fact.
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