Thursday, July 24, 2014

Second Book Syndrome

Here's one of those evil little surprises you don't hear about until you're smiling over your first contract, blissfully unaware of what you've just contracted from it—Second Book Syndrome.

I'm not talking about the second book you'll ever write. You might already have ten manuscripts under your belt, and in that case, you might have built up your immune system against Second Book Syndrome already. But if you're like me, and your shelved manuscripts need to stay firmly shelved, or maybe you really are writing your second book ever because the first is the one you sold—be warned now that Second Book Syndrome might be on the horizon.

Symptoms include:
  • Inability to focus, indecision
  • Hatred of all words written
  • Pacing
  • Paranoid thoughts: you are a one-hit wonder, readers who liked your first book will hate the second, you'll never have another good idea
  • Drafting letters to your agent asking if it's normal for writing to be this hard, then deleting that letter, then drafting it again, then deleting, etc
  • Panic that you left your day job too early and will have nothing to show for this time you took off to focus on writing
  • Internet surfing/bingeing on kitten gifs

I got Second Book Syndrome bad after DUPLICITY sold. Despite having started a new book before the sale (that had the approval of my both my agent and my very picky husband), doubt was creeping in like allergies. This book had to be better than what I'd done before, or at least as strong. What if it wasn't? What if it was too different? What if it wasn't different enough?? I decided I didn't like the direction the already written pages were going and scraped them. I rewrote them and scraped them again. More rewriting. More deleting. I deleted about 60k's worth of words before I admitted to my agent that I wasn't as excited about the book as I used to be.

She suggested I outline the story, which, as an improvisational writer, is something I'd never done before. So I tried it. I wrote up a very loose, most-important-plot-points-only synopsis that was about 5 pages long, and it helped me see the MC's character arc and how the book would end. I started to think maybe things would be okay. I even got a little bit excited about it.

But as soon as it came to making it happen, I locked up again. I spent more time writing and panicking and deleting. The voices in my head kept saying, this isn't as good. This main character is boring and stupid. This plot is too complicated. None of this is going to make sense.

It had now been eight months that I'd tried to write that book, and I only had 30 pages to show for it.

But I'm here to give you hope. There IS a cure for Second Book Syndrome, and it comes in two forms: 1) A supportive debut group, where you can read about the other 65%+ of your peers who are suffering from the same syndrome 2) Writing, writing, and more writing. Hate the words all you want, but keep making them. Rewrite. Delete. Punch a pillow and do that scene, AGAIN, for the 59,000th time.

I told myself even if I scrapped that book, I would make myself finish it if only to say I had.

And it wasn't until I finished the first draft, almost a year since the idea was born, that I recognized how badly I'd let Second Book Syndrome get to me. When I reread the pages, I discovered maybe it made a little more sense than I thought. And actually I liked the MC. And the plot was still complicated, but I could fix that in revisions. And holy cow, I had another book.

So, friends. The moral of the story is, if Second Book Syndrome happens to you, it will be okay. (Actually, that pertains to everything in writing—querying, being on sub to publishing houses, cover design, edits, etc)

Have you ever suffered from Second Book Syndrome or something like it? How did you push through?

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