Writing a book is hard work. I didn’t realize how hard until I started writing my second one.
Writing my first book was fairly easy – like walking up a steep hill and slipping and falling a few times along the way. But that was all right, because no one was looking. I didn’t nurture any hopes of ever becoming a published author at the time. I used writing as a creative outlet, and as long as no one knew what I was writing I wasn’t experiencing any of the pressure and the anxiety and self-doubt that come with publishing in mind. I wasn’t concerned what anyone would think about the finished product, since it was only for my own eyes. The fact that my first novel turned into a published book is still something I’m wrapping my head around.
The hardest part of being a writer is sitting and doing the job.
I didn’t realize ‘second novel syndrome’ was a thing until I sat down to write one.
Once my post-publication euphoria simmered down, I couldn’t wait to get started on my next project. My head was full of ideas I couldn’t jot down fast enough. But when it came to putting those ideas together, it turned out to be more challenging than I had anticipated. All my creativity came to a screeching halt. Suddenly nothing I wrote seemed good enough. I was besieged by self-doubt. What were the chances that I could come up with something as good as my first draft? The last thing I wanted was for my second book to be compared to the first in a negative way. What if it wouldn’t live up to my readers’ expectations? If I wanted it to be successful, I told myself, I needed to raise the stakes.
The hating game.
So, while fellow indie authors were turning out books at the rate of four-five in the first year, a year after I published my first book I was still on chapter eight of book two and second-guessing every word, every comma or nuance, and even spending hours just coming up with a name for my characters or for a particular setting. No matter how many times I told myself “It doesn’t matter, just write the dang story!”, I was constantly editing or deleting and making very little headway. I kept changing the sequence of events and character traits like it was a constant game of Whack-a-Mole. The more ideas popped up, the more I struck down. Halfway through the second chapter the villain sounds too nice as a high-powered lawyer? Whack!!. . . better to make him a sleazy cyber-criminal. My female MC’s name doesn’t quite fit her personality? Whack! . . . she gets a brand-new name in the middle of chapter five. My writing mood see-sawed between empowering moments when I felt I was onto something really good, and moments when I wanted to trash everything and give up.
But wasn’t that what I was doing when I started writing my first book? I reminded myself at some point. Even then, I was constantly tweaking and changing things around, but at my own pace, without the fear of failing or of anyone critiquing my work. It was fun. And that’s when I realized it was exactly the kind of mindset I had to get into if I wanted to get the job done.
Lower your expectations. Remember why you started writing in the first place.
At this point in time I’m happy to say that following my own advice has started to produce the desired results. I’m still a work in progress and some writing habits are impossible to beat, but I’m not as stressed as when I first started on my draft. I’m starting to enjoy writing again.
The best advice I can give to other writers experiencing second-book syndrome—or third, or fourth, for that matter—is, lower your expectations and write like it’s your first book. Make it new and different and better, but make it yours. Write the story you want to write and that feels your own. That’s why you embarked on this journey in the first place, what made you excited to sit down to write. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to reach the finish line, as long as you’re enjoying the journey.
Fellow writers and aspiring writers out there, I would love to hear what your biggest struggle is in your writing.