So I like to write. I’ve written one book, Darkness Fell and the Demon’s Sceptre. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve even managed to sell to a few people that I don’t know and had my first royalty cheque (£10.71 doesn’t sound like much, but believe me it’s a huge confidence booster)… but the tales of other authors abound. The fear of the second novel looms and, if I’m honest, for a long while I was trapped by it.
Many people say that the second novel is the hardest. Why wouldn’t it be? You’ve invested a huge amount of your time and emotional energy in completing your first big story… When you finish you feel tired. Big Nap Tired. Several days are spent napping and dreaming of the future. You’ve published your first work on Amazon, iTunes or used Smashwords to handle the whole caboodle. You’re trying to plan your marketing strategy and, if like me, you’ve only the internet to guide you. You’re feeling positive. You’re on a high… and at the back of your mind you’re yearning to get started on your next writing project; another novel that you either just want to get out there or dream that it could one day top the best-seller lists on every marketplace you could ever dream of… but wait. You’ve got some ideas. You’re full of energy. Where do you begin with your next project?
This is a tale of caution, dear reader. I’m sure that it’s one that anyone who has written over a hundred thousand words of anything can relate to. This is not a tale of fear…. it’s one that, I hope, can be of aid to others and, if not, what the hell is the point? I say that with a distinct LOL, but the point is serious.
A brief, I promise you, background. I suffer from mild schizophrenia. I hear voices. I hate crowds, though I love the people in them. I shop at quiet times and hope to high heaven that the gym is quiet when I go there in the mornings. I would never harm another person. My mental state is frightening to me but, to my psychiatrist, I’m very able, not matter how or why or when or where I try to reason the details of the mental state that I’m in. When I last saw him – they’re on a six month rotation, so always new but he put it more clear than most – he looked at my Amazon web page for Darkness Fell, read the reviews and said I’d achieved quite a lot for someone with ‘my condition’. He offered to host a free version in the hospital’s library, citing reasons of encouragement to people that were struggling with similar conditions. I honestly thought ‘F*** me’ and decided it was a good idea… but the reasons behind his comment really struck home. I’d written a novel. I’d succeeded in ignoring my voices and trying to reason away their terror to achieve something that I’d always wanted to achieve.
I came home and thought. A lot. I dreamt. I enthused. I sat and thought about my next work… and almost eight moths later I was still struggling with what to do, and more importantly how to do it.
If you’re a writer, you’re aware of the power of nuance. You know that you have an idea but there are seemingly infinite ways to describe and actually write those ideas down and turn them into gripping works that will enthral even, at the least, just a single reader. You want others to be captivated. To read. To buy. To rave. To… simply just enjoy.
This is where we return to my point… you’ve done that first book and, no matter what your state of mind, I think this is highly cromulent… for, riding on that high of self-publishing, you want to continue… and that’s where the cautionary aspect of my tale kicks in.
I had lots of ideas for my second book. I story-boarded. I mind mapped. I filled countless pages of A3 paper with ideas and tried to whittle them down into something useable. There was nothing wrong with that approach. I got a lot from it… what did it was that I was so eager to continue on my high that I jumped in and started writing.
That might work for you… It didn’t for me. I wrote my starting chapter all full of energy and convinced that what I was doing was right… then I rewrote it. And rewrote it…. and rewrote it again. As of January 2013 I’d been through six months worth of re-writes, headaches, too-long napping filled with stress and worry that I wasn’t good enough to do anything else. I was always meant to improve as a writer, yet now I was stuck. Nothing I did felt right. It wasn’t good enough for me… How would it ever turn into something that I could publish, be happy with and say ‘Yes! I did that!”
My views on achievement are simple: I’m now thirty-seven, but I’m still alive. That might be a tad negative for some, but I find it’s a very soothing measure of gain; my worries pale into insignificance compared to some, but if you’re still here then that’s a biggun. You should feel proud. Life has its ups and downs and if you make it to whatever age you’re at… you’re a winner. Plain and simple.
So I went back to the drawing board. I tried to focus on what I was achieving… and went back again,
then,as if my magic, my partner Paul said a few and, frequently I kick myself for not listening to him, wise words: your first chapter has to achieve three things. You have to grab the reader (duh!). You have to establish sympathy for your main character (OK, I thought, Professor Edward Grimly-Knight is X Y and Z) and you have to demonstrate your premise… the evolving, as you initially approach it, formulae of X does Y to do/overcome Z… and it hit home. Then, just as Paul was uttering the words ‘and always you should signpost the rest of the book’ the thought hit me… Bam! Like a Spice Weasel.
Your inciting incident is always important. It does all of the above and leads into everything that follows… yet I realised the crucial point. In Darkness Fell I’d actually started at what is now Chapter Four – the first point at which my imagination as a writer had first been gripped. I loved the scene where Darkness had examined the threat posed to her. I’d written it enthused with her character… and why the hell shouldn’t I approach my second book in the same way?
In my enthusiasm to repeat my meagre success I had launched into what I love: writing… but I had missed that vital energy. That one scene that somehow highlighted everything that I wanted to achieve… and it’s so I present to you the similarly meagre words that might help focus your mind and help prevent you from falling into the Second Novel Trap.
- What is your your premise?
- How do you grab you’re reader’s attention?
- How do you instil, in you’re reader’s mind, sympathy for your main character/s?
- How do you sign post the other events in your story?
The answer, for me, was to produce a very long treatment. A treatment should normally be concise and be only three or four pages long… That isn’t what I’m doing. What matters is that you consider what is right for you. You might start at page one. You might start at page eighty-six. You might just stick some much-valued posts in the sand and say that those key points are what your story will hinge around.
What matters is that you take a step back and consider what really energises you… for therein lies the secret. You’ll not only not be held back by pre-conceived ideas or the details of your own expectation… you’ll remain free. Freedom is the ultimate weapon of the writer. By all means, and ultimately it’s a must, you should bare in mind your target audience… but damn it, write and plan and theorise what ever gets you going. Don’t be held back by the pressure of trying to repeat what you’ve done. Every work you do, no matter how small, is worth every one of the thousands of words you produce.
Just take a step back. Consider the points above. Think about the mood of your work and revel in it… for when your imagination gets going, no matter how that might be… you’ve got it.
Just don’t be limited by what you perceive or remember as what has come before. You’re fluid and your work is. Believe in yourself and don’t give up…
Your imagination is worth it.