“The problem with a second novel is that it takes almost no time to write compared with a first novel. If I write my first novel in a month at the age of 23 and my second novel takes me two years, which one have I written more quickly? The second, of course. The first took 23 years and contains all the experience, pain, stored-up artistry, anger, love, hope, comic invention and despair of a lifetime. The second is an act of professional writing. That is why it is so much more difficult.”
Stephen Fry, at the inaugural awarding of the Encore Prize, established to honor writers who successfully navigate the peculiar perils of the second novel. Quoted by themillions.com
It is often said that most people (about 80 percent of Americans) feel that they have a book in them. But did anyone check how many feel that they have MORE than a single book in them? Is writing more than one novel what separates laymen with literary aspirations from professionals?
Writing a second novel is not what I had thought. Trying to understand why it is so, I discovered the “second-book syndrome.” Writer Tess Gerritsen explains:
“For years, I’d been saving up all those emotions, and I’d thrown them all into that first book. Was there anything left inside me for a second? Ironically enough, garnering high praise for a first book made it all worse, because so much more was expected of me.”
In the comments, Tess adds:
“the most joy a writer will ever experience is writing that very first book, when the process is new and exciting and you haven’t yet struggled with deadlines or expectations or bad reviews. It’s a challenge to recapture the fun of writing the first book. Like trying to remember what it felt to fall in love the very first time.”
Can writers fall in love over their second, third… books, or do they become “professionals,” who do the work without investing emotionally in the process?
I have no answer (if you do, please, write it in comments), but here are some reasons as to why writing a second novel is different from the first.
“the second book is where the writer screws up his courage and learns to proceed without the illusions and wild optimism. If he gets through it, he becomes not just someone who once wrote a book, but an author who has launched a career. Even more important, he knows he’s writing not because of any particular fantasies about how publication will change his life—he’s writing because he wants to. Because he’s a writer.”
“My debut novel wasn’t exactly universally loved. Though it sold better than I expected and garnered some positive comments, a lot of reviewers called out a clear, fundamental problem. I’m pretty sure that I let the negative response impact me more than I should have…
… I was trying too hard to write fast, and I wasn’t producing my best material. I think that my subconscious recognized just how bad the novel was and put the brakes on me doing something stupid in releasing something that just wasn’t ready.”
From Writers’ Cafe
My own experience while slogging through a second draft: one can fall in love with new characters, but this time around, you’re not alone with them. With the first novel, I was writing to please myself. Now, I can feel “a reader” in the back of my mind, someone I don’t really know, yet feel obliged to please.