7.4.2 WRITING THAT TRICKY SECOND NOVEL: SIMON JAMES GREEN
Second novels can feel all about pressure. You’re under pressure from your first novel, because you’ll most likely still be promoting it while your writing the second; there’s a high chance you’ll be under pressure from a tight deadline, because your publisher may want to release your second book just 12 months after the first; and you’ll feel pressure from people enjoying the first book, and worrying you’ll never be able to write another one that’s as good, and everyone will see that you’re a total fraud.
This was exactly what I felt. Noah Can’t Even had been a success, I’d signed a two-book deal, and the sequel, Noah Could Never, was due to be published a year later. I had a summer of promoting the first Noah, and, while a sequel is easier in some ways, in that you know the characters and story world, I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to come up with a plot that worked and that I would be revealed as a ‘one hit wonder’. I ended up writing the first draft in eight weeks, which only served to make me paranoid that nothing any good could possibly be written so fast. (In fact, I now write a first draft in less time than that sometimes, but that’s another story!)
So, here’s what I learned about how to approach all this without going mad…
- Carve out the time. I found there were distractions like never before when writing my second novel – so much so, I ended up booking a remote barn in Devon in an attempt to get away from everything. At the very least, set aside whatever your ‘writing time’ is going to be, and defend it. I leave my mobile in another room, so I’m not distracted by social media notifications. Turn your email off. I know you need to put the washing on, but you’re going to have to do it later. No, you don’t need to order some author business cards right now.
- Remember you’ve done it before. Whatever you’ve convinced yourself, you’re not a fraud. You worked hard to get here, and you only succeeded because you genuinely can write. There isn’t an agent or a publisher on the planet who would have taken you on for any other reason. You can do this.
- You’ve learned a lot. Yes, your first novel may well have been years in the making. But you’ve leaned a lot about the business in the last couple of years – you’ve worked with an editor, and you have a better idea about what they expect and how the process works. You’re actually much better placed now to deliver a manuscript that works – although you probably don’t feel that way!
- Replenish your creativity. Writing is exhausting. You may feel like you’ve used all your best character, plot and dialogue ideas in your first novel. It’s really important to take time out – in whatever way works for you. Meditation, some long walks, baking, reading, kicking back and watching some TV, are all great ways to fill the well back up. Relaxation is vital, but also, reading some books, or watching some TV shows can spark fresh ideas that you might be able to use, or adapt, for your own work.
- Ask for help if you need it. Your agent and editor have your back, and they’re absolutely there to help you through this. If you’re in a mess, stuck, blocked, just pick up the phone or send them an email. Sometimes all you need is an encouraging word, and a fresh pair of eyes on a problem, to help unlock it.
I’ll level with you: every single new book I ever start, I hate. I am continually convinced I’ve written the worst book ever, that everyone will hate it, and my career will finally be over. I genuinely think this is part of the process now. As creative people, we are beset with doubts and worries. But I think that lack of arrogance actually plays in our favour ultimately. Yes, it’s painful, but it also makes us strive for better, and allows us to be open to notes and ideas from editors that improve our work. Trust that what you’re feeling is normal. Trust that your editor (and agent) will help you through this. Most importantly, trust you can do it – because you can.
Simon is a Carnegie-nominated, award-winning author and screenwriter. After an eight-book deal with Scholastic, his picture book Llama Glamarama was published in June, with a Young Adult Heartbreak Boys and a Middle Grade Life of Riley: Beginner’s Luck to follow later in the year. His Noah books have also been optioned for television, and he contributed to the PROUD anthology.
Simon is also a Spark Mentor.