Friday, 18 July 2008

Second Novel Syndrome - Sally Nicholls

When I finished my first novel, I was sure Book Two was going to be easier. After all, I’d written one book. Now I now knew how it was done, I would avoid making all the mistakes I’d made with Book One by the simple tactic of ... er ... not making them this time. Simple. Right?
Wrong. My first problem came when I tried to decide what Book Two was going to be about. Every idea I tried seemed flat and dull when compared with the sparkling prose of Book One. I had to remind myself that Ways to Live Forever had been polished and repolished until it shone, and that early drafts hadn’t looked nearly so pretty.
Ways to Live Forever had two major advantages that none of my new ideas did – it had an unusual structure, and it made people cry. How was I supposed to beat that? I also had a horrible feeling that – like a band which puts all its good records into its first album – I’d used up all my good ideas. With Book One I could put in whatever I wanted. With Book Two it had to be as good as Ways to Live Forever, and yet be completely original.
Then there was motivation. I wrote Ways to Live Forever on a masters programme, where every week kind people put smiley faces in my margins, asked what was going to happen next and gently corrected me when I came in with more random ideas. Now, suddenly, I had no one – and I was expected to work this out for myself?
It didn’t help that while I was trying to write Book Two, Book One was going through the excitement of a publishing auction beyond my wildest dreams. My agent kept forwarding me emails from publishers saying how Ways to Live Forever had made them cry, how such-and-such in America loved it, how they were really looking forward to Book Two – I was writing Book Two, right? Did I know when it would be finished?
So what happened? Well, I eventually found a story that I liked, although I was three chapters in before it came alive. It was a great help that I found this before I had a publisher for Book One, as I think if I’d waited until I had a book deal, the pressure would have been much worse. I also joined a children’s writer’s critique group at, which at least made me feel like there were people out there who wanted to know what happened next.
I found a job which gave me two writing days every week, and began enforcing a 2000-words-a-week rule. In retrospect, this may have been a mistake, as I ended up with a lot of guilt and many bad words rather than a few chapters I was really happy with. But at least I had something. I had a book, which grew, and which was handed in a few days after its deadline. Hurrah! Scholastic even seem keen to buy Book Three, which suggests that they liked it.
And Book Three is going to be easier, I’m sure of it. After all, I’ve learnt from my mistakes now. Book Three is going to be simple. Right?


Lucy Coats said...

Love the cartoon, Sally. 70% eh!? Ah well, better get on with not-writing Novel 2 then!

Sally said...

I really hope it's not 70%! But it made me smile too when I saw it. I think 'aargh my novel is crap' is an essential part of the writing process. At least, I hope so ...

fionadunbar said...

...But where's the cartoon from?? Its title is strikingly similar to that of my friend's blog, 'Notes From the Slushpile'. Do tell!

Sally said...

It comes from Children's Bookshelf, which is the children's section of Publisher's Weekly, the American equivalent of Publishing News or the Bookseller. At some point I signed up for a weekly email from them, and you get the cartoon too. The bloke is a picture book writer and the girl writes YA books and it's very acute on some of the lows of writing for children.

bookwitch said...

Is it going to make us cry?

Sally said...

Well, it has a happy ending. But it managed to made my agent and my housemate cry anyway.