I’m hard at work at Pennies #2 (still untitled, and still going painfully slow). I’ve heard this term before, but now that I’m living it these days, it’s a whole, new kind of awful.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far…
Second Book Syndrome is real.
I couldn’t find an official definition, so here’s mine:
Second Book Syndrome – the fear of not writing another book as good as the first.
This happens with both series and stand-alones, but the challenge lies with the author’s expectations. With the first book, there’s no deadline or pressure. The world doesn’t care if you’re writing, or not, but now you feel pressure to please the reader, to crank out another book at lightning speed, and do it all perfectly. Nothing is good enough. It’s paralyzing sometimes.
What My Brain Says
The blessing is people loved Pennies from Burger Heaven. I’ve sold hundreds of books (I’m not trying to be vague. I honestly couldn’t figure out the exact number), but I have 194 Amazon reviews. My hard work paid off! The curse is now I feel like a one-hit wonder, like I’m not talented enough to make the next part of Copper Daniels’ journey as compelling as before.
Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m lucky that Pennies is so successful. If it had nothing but one-star reviews, I’d be crying in my Oreos that I’m a loser who can’t write.
Now, I’m merely a loser who’ll never write anything decent again.
What My Critique Group Says
I am in the best critique group ever – four, amazing women who sit with me in a coffee shop every Wednesday night (three are multi-published), and we read our current works-in-progress aloud to each another. They make me laugh, renew my spirit and help me become a better writer. We’ve been together for years. They would tell me if #2 sucked and would save me from myself.
However, that’s not what they’re saying. They really like it. They think I’m taking Copper Daniels’ story to the next level, but keeping all her sass and spunk.
What Helped Recently (Sorta)
Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of the mega-hits Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. She also has a podcast called Magic Lessons. In Episode #207: Living the Dream and Facing the Nightmare, Liz is helping a former attorney turned writer, who published a successful debut novel, but keeps abandoning ideas for her second book. She’s completely stuck.
One of the things I love about this podcast is how Liz also seeks advice from others famous artists, rather than just doling out her own. This time, she speaks to the amazing Neil Gaiman (author of The Sandman, The Graveyard Book, Coraline). Thanks to these two, the woman realized fear and perfectionism were stopping her.
Gaiman said something I loved, “Nobody has a particularly accurate point of view on what they’re making when they’re making it.”
Preach to me, Neil. Preach!
So, I’m choosing to ignore to the nasty voices in my head and to keep writing (even though I’m still skeeered). This definitely is a process. I’m not miraculously better. It goes something like this:
Nice Me: You should be kinder to yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
Mean Me: Shut the hell up.
Pushing Past Fear
Here are my insights so far:
* It took me six years to write Pennies. I believe I can write #2 faster, but I need to be more patient. It takes as long as it takes.
* I’m on page 220 of the first draft. I’m still learning this story. Patience!
* This paralyzing fear is normal. Write anyway.
* Keep taking one to two chapters to critique each week (7 – 20 pages).
* As much as my current state hurts, not writing feels even worse.
* My ace is the hole is my former literary agent will critique #2 when it’s done. I’m paying her this time, but it’s worth it because she’s like my security blanket.
Sigh, and so it goes. Pennies #2 will be released in 2017. Hopefully, my sanity will still be intact.