The Difficult Second Album

Wednesday, March 25, 2009, 10:15 PM

I've been threatening to blog about this for a while now, so here it is: I have the Second Book Blues.

Where The Twelve/The Ghosts of Belfast was written incredibly quickly, Book Two is proving a struggle. Seriously, it's like pulling teeth trying to write this thing. And why is that?

There are lots of reasons. Some are practicalities, such as the story being much more complex and less linear, with a larger cast of characters. Another is the problem of having less available time in which to write (and that situation is only getting worse).

But I think the greater obstacles are psychological. For one, there is now a deadline, a date on the calendar for which I am contractually obliged to have this book written for. A while ago, it seemed a lifetime away. Now it feels like it's right around the corner, a problem that's exacerbated by the first book's publication and the attendant hoopla standing between me and there. This means a new ingredient that has never been in the writing process for me before: pressure.

Another aspect to this is the knowledge that this book will be published. The first book was written purely on hope, with nothing to lose but time. It didn't matter if it was any good or not at the time it was being written, so out it came, unhindered. Not so book two. Every single word I write, I know seasoned publishing professionals are going to scrutinise. My agent, my UK and US publishers. This leads to deepening of the already niggling insecurities. What if they find out the first book was a fluke? What if they discover I'm a fraud, that I was never any good in the first place? So now I'm constantly second-guessing myself as I write. And what does that make? More pressure.

Then on top of all that, there's the anxiety of Book One's looming publication. I've had more than one sleepless night about that already. What if it doesn't sell? What if it gets panned? What will my friends and family think if it all fizzles out, dies a death just as it enters the world? And yet more pressure.

I take comfort from knowing that I am not alone in this. A couple of the seasoned professionals mentioned above have told me it's not uncommon to have a hard time with book two. As one told me, I had all my life to write Book One. Now I've got to write Book Two in just a few months. That makes me feel a little better.

And before anyone else raises the point, I know this sounds like whining. I know many writers would give just about anything to have the opportunities I've had. I don't take any of them for granted. But still, it's tough.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not whining. But it's also not the end of the world, and I think you recognize that. Dealing with the pressure is a necessary lesson, and freaking out a bit comes with the territory.

As for the label "I don't know what I'm talking about" - yes, you do. You've just posted a rant about your feelings, about which no one knows more than you. Don't discount yourself.

I'm not an author, I don't know the process, but as a reader, I can tell you I've read few second books that were worse than the first. They may not be better, but they weren't worse.

As for your talent - I know you're not fishing for compliments, but still - you are talented. Dude, you were my first online crush in the writing blogosphere, and it was because of your short stories! (Cindy has since taken your place, tough luck, I know you're disappointed.)

And, if nothing else, think about all the authors who were roundly abused during their lives and found huge success posthumously. (No. I am not suggesting you kill yourself.)

11:01 PM  
Blogger Gordon Harries said...

It’s not whining.

But, and I say this respectfully (in intent at least) it ultimately doesn’t matter. All that pressurizing yourself is going to do is cost you more time. You’ve just to find a way to grind it out, the card system you’ve talked about else where sounds like a step in that direction.

It’s cold comfort I know, but you’ve got everything to play for here.

11:02 PM  
Blogger BT said...

Thanks for sharing - I mean that. I don't look at what you've posted as a whine. Writers who are still struggling to get to where you are need to know these things so you're providing a service to those who would walk the same path. You are being educational and giving back to the industry which is being so good to you by providing knowledge to those who come after - forewarned is forearmed and all that.

I imagine the pressure of living up to what others have said about you is immense, but you need to put all that aside and find the love for the craft you've expressed so well in past blog posts.

Do what you need to do for The Twelve, and to keep yourself sane in your day-to-day life; put the rest into writing the second book - and try to find some enjoyment in it. At least that's the theory.

And good luck.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Stacy said...

It's not whining. It's hard to stay creative amidst all the extraneous stuff you have to do for the career side of things.

What works for me is writing three pages of crap every morning, longhand. And when I say crap, I mean, "OMG, I'm so exhausted I forgot to put a coffee filter in the maker again and got a mouthful of coffee grounds, and of course my roommate didn't put his dishes in the dishwasher AGAIN, so i had to do it for him," kind of stuff. It helps keep me both sane and creative. (Well, maybe not sane, but it at least helps keep things in perspective.) But I don't know if you'd want to do more writing or if you'd have time. Takes me about 45 minutes in the morning.

Listen to me. Giving advice to the professional. : )

12:02 AM  
Blogger Karen L. Simpson said...

It's not whining It's good to talk about anxiety to let off the steam.It will make it easier to done what you need to get done. Also, how people will receive your first book is now out of your control. So get back to one thing you can control which is the next book.

I hope this helps can't wait to buy a copy of your book.

2:41 AM  
Blogger jjdebenedictis said...

Dude! I'm in the same spot, and I don't even have any scary deadlines to face. Writing the second book is hard.

As for your insecurities, remember that random people on the internet have read your writing and spontaneously become fans. A high-powered agent read your short story and tracked you down. Appallingly-famous authors have read your book and gone on to say the nicest things about it.

This is not a fluke. You've got real talent. The book will do great.


3:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Stuart, I sort of know how you feel. Although I write tedious literary criticism rather than fiction, when it's part of your career path to publish and meet deadlines on a regular basis(rather than writing a PhD which you have loads of time for in retrospect), all of a sudden it becomes a lot scarier and, as you're discovering, the 'Emperor's New Clothes' syndrome kicks in - no matter how well your first effort is received, you're too close to it to see objectively just how good it actually is. Having said that, the folks who have commented so positively on 'The Twelve' know what they're talking about, and I for one can't wait to read it. I also have no doubt whatsoever that the sophomore blues (great name for an instrumental) will soon pass. As the above post pointed out, you clearly have a genuine talent and I'm sure the second book will rock the place just as much as the first will.

9:13 AM  
Blogger Sean Black said...


I think your debut is the one I'm most looking to forward to reading this year. Before writing my first novel (also out this July), I had the benefit of writing TV scripts for almost ten years. The thing I discovered over those years is that it's only when you don't get that low-dread in the pit of your stomach that you need worry. Where people get into difficulty is when they think it's going to get any easier. Stories ain't widgets, every single one throws up its own set of challenges.

Stick at it, be glad of the nerves and know that you're not alone.


11:48 AM  
Blogger Jamie Eyberg said...

I have found that writers are their own worst critics. As with any profession you are always going to look back on something and say, 'I could have done this part differently.' It is human nature.

Now go out there, introduce yourself to your larger cast of characters and your non-linear plot and enjoy the ride. We are all curious to see where this destination takes you.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Josephine Damian said...

Every time I hear an author has signed a two- or more book deal I shake my head because I know this pressure to write and promote at the same time is what lays (lies?) ahead? And that it can and will crush them.

Agents tell authors it's in their best interest to sign a multi-book deal but that's bullshit - it only benefits the agent and the publisher.

I look at a genre writer like my hero Michael Malone, and that gal who wrote THe TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE and say: See, it can be done - one book, one contract at a time.

Stuart, you have more talent in your pinky finger than the current best-selling, multi-published thriller author has in their whole body. Frankly, your biggest problem is going to be envy, not ridicule.

You've done what most say is impossible - written an entirely original book (not to mention making a fan out of the toughest critic on the planet - me).

Take faith in knowing since you've done the impossible once, you can do it again easily.

And no I don't consider this pot to be whining.

I know big-name authors who tap a trusted fan to handle some of their publicity. Maybe delegating certain tasks will help? (no I wasn't volunteering) You've built up quite a harem of fans, though.

My advice? Carve out a writing schedule and make that time sacred.

2:19 PM  
Blogger cindy said...

you said everything i want to say. and you've gotten such positive blurbs and reviews--and guess what? the better they are the HARDER it is to write the sequel. you've set the bar. expectations are high. i feel you, stuart. i do.

11:50 PM  
Blogger Declan Burke said...

You're a whining, snivelling wean. You very probably found the m/s for The Twelve. I'll bet you can't even type, let alone write.

Now, get on with it.

Here's a tip, squire. There is no 'second book'. Not in today's climate. These days, every book is your first book.

And stop worrying about what other people are going to think. Let them worry about what you're thinking. Start trying to conform to some kind of expectations you're inventing, and you're doomed. If enough writers start thinking that way, the industry is doomed.

Go crazy. Write your book. The book you want it to be. If absolutely no one else on the planet likes it, then THEY'RE ALL WRONG.

9:20 AM  
Blogger Janet said...

It's not whining. Someone may yearn to have a child, but that doesn't change the fact that night-feedings wear you out. Dreams fulfilled present their own challenges. Lazarus may have been raised from the dead, but that didn't prevent him from stubbing his toe, getting tired or sick and eventually dying again.

Still, I'm looking forward to dealing with your problem.

6:33 PM  
Blogger Nancy Coffelt said...

Though I wouldn't exactly use the same tack as Declan Burke, (in my family, we say, "It's time to put on the big girl/boy pants.")I do wholeheartedly agree that EVERY book is your first book.

And as far as failing? We're writers, right? Failure is one of our major food groups. Cover it in vodka and ice cream and call it good.

Back to blithely typing away at my third novel....

12:32 AM  
Blogger storyqueen said...

Dear Stuart,

I am a children's author who stumbled upon your blog. I have to agree with the guy Declan above^. Write what you want to write. YOU. Because really, when you think about it, you can only tell stories in your own way.

Success can be intimidating....but don't let it get to you. Enjoy the fruits of your labor....but keep on laboring.

(Because really, the best thing about being a writer is the writing, the actual writing, not all of the junk that goes with it).

Wishing you the best,


12:41 AM  
Blogger Richard Mabry said...

You can't possibly be whining, because you're echoing what I've been thinking since I signed the contract for publication of my first novel. But what a lovely problem to have. I'm sure there are a bunch of writers who'd love to face those difficulties.
Good luck.

2:20 AM  
Blogger Swati said...

Thanks so much for writing this. I'm in the same boat, and there is something really reassuring about that.

I don't know if it will help you, but it has helped me to write in 15 minute segments. Since I believe that in 15 minutes, I can't really get much work done and certainly not quality work, and so if nothing is done, then so what? Somehow this frees me to write. Not that I have the magic trick. I'm only around 20 pages into my second novel and it is due in December.

4:20 AM  
Blogger Linda said...

Stuart, I really appreciated this post, as I'm struggling with the same issue. A wise and established writer friend of mine told me something amazingly comforting: if ithe writing's getting easier, you're doing something wrong. In other words, writing gets harder because there is a pressure and a push to make your work better, to provide yourself - and your readers - greater challenges. The first novel, published or not, is the equivalent of a dissertation for a doctoral candidate, the practice ground for all subsequent work. So write through it, shut off the inner and outer critics, and have fun... because in the end, writing should be about fun and pleasure, even if it is the hardest thing in the world to do (short of birthing babies). Peace, Linda

1:45 AM  

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