Writers often say that their second book was the hardest to write. I’m not sure why that is – maybe it’s the weight of expectation after getting your first deal, or the fact you have a deadline when you didn’t before, or just the fact that writing has gone from being a hobby to a job. Either way, search “second book hardest” in Twitter and you’ll see that it’s pretty common.
I’ve just finished a second draft of [what I hope will be] my second book, and so far it’s been… actually pretty easy, and a lot of fun! Obviously everyone writes differently, but my lack of Book Two Trauma is making me feel like I’ve gone horribly wrong somewhere (and I might well have – no one’s read it yet, it might be totally shit). Here is a wee novel aesthetics thing I made to give you a clue as to what it’s about:
Comparing it with my first book, I think part of the reason this one has been easier is because I’m now working freelance, so my hours are much more flexible. Obviously that’s not an option for everyone, and longterm it won’t be for me either, so I’m trying to make the most of it while I can! I also moved to a very quiet part of Ibiza in September, so my social life is pretty sparse at the moment – good for my writing, and also my liver.
However, I think the main difference is that I’ve been much more systematic with how I’ve written this book. With my first book (and all the various almost-books I wrote before then) I had no process whatsoever; I just kind of wrote without thinking about it. Again, everyone writes differently, so this isn’t a How-To Guide or anything… but if anyone is interested, this has been my ‘schedule’.
1. NaNoWriMo: This book actually came from two separate ideas that I’d had for ages, and a few days before NaNoWriMo in November I decided I’d try combining them into one story. I didn’t have much of a plan, so I just wrote and wrote until, at 37,000 words, I ran out of steam. I ended up not using 95% of what I got down, but it helped me build up the characters and carve out the story. What doesn’t go in the book is just as important as what does, and for me this was a good way to figure that out.
2. A break! I had edits on my first book to do in December, and then I was pretty busy with Christmas and New Year, so I put Book #2 on the back burner for a month. I know you’re supposed to do this anyway but I never do, and I actually think it helped a lot. Just mulling it over gave me more time to focus on what exactly the book is trying to say/do and figure out what was still missing.
3. 1,000 words a day: Just after New Year, I decided to start afresh, using the plot I’d worked out after NaNoWriMo, and aim for 1,000 words a day. I actually ended up doing a lot more on some days, so I had a first draft pretty quickly (it was only 53k). The writing itself was obviously pretty scruffy at this stage, but I think because I’d used the NaNoWriMo draft as sort of sounding board to figure out what did and didn’t work in terms of structure, it was much easier to get this down quickly. It definitely helped me push through when I hit the inevitable it’s-terrible-I’m-an-imbecile-no-one-will-ever-want-to-read-this! point at 30k.
4. Editing: I really enjoy editing. I think it’s because it’s like a puzzle: you have most of the pieces, and you just need to work out what goes where and what’s still missing. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been restructuring the chapters, strengthening the middle and obviously polishing up the writing itself, and I now have a second draft of 58,000 words. It still needs a lot of work – probably some large structural edits, too – but it’s more or less a complete novel. Not bad for four months!
5. Beta readers: I didn’t give my first book to anyone to read before sending it to competitions and agents, and I wish I had (if only to weed out the embarrassing typos!). I’m going to ask a few kind people to read over my second draft, then rework it a bit more based on their feedback before I send to my agent.
Having anyone else read it is still a kind of terrifying prospect at the moment… But regardless of what anyone else thinks, I’ve learnt a lot from writing it, and so far I’ve loved every minute of doing it: people often say ‘write the book you want to read’ and this time I did exactly that. Just have to keep my fingers crossed other people will want to read it, too!