Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Reality of Writing Book 2

If you follow a lot of writer blogs--and certainly if you've been following this one for the past few months--you've probably seen authors mention struggling with book 2. (Okay, fine, for my part there was some serious whining)

And I'll confess, when I dove into KEEPER 2 I'd naively hoped I might be immune to the problem, since I thought the Book-2-Woes had more to do with trying to write a second book for the first time, and I'd already triumphed over that challenge with LET THE SKY FALL.

But no, writing LET THE SKY FALL came with its own set of difficulties--but it was NOTHING on the stressful, brutal, nightmare that was writing KEEPER book 2. And while a small part of that probably has to do with the KEEPER series being a BEAST of a series (those of you who've read book 1 understand), honestly, it had much more to do with what I suspect makes Book 2 so freaking hard for everyone: the nature of sequels, and the reality of writing a book under contract for the first time. 

Let's look at each of those one at a time.

So... sequels. Yeah, they're HARD. So much harder than I ever thought they would be. Why? Because you're stuck building on something that already exists. Book 1 is a concrete thing and for better or worse, whatever is in there needs to be acknowledged and then taken to the next level. So you not only have to figure out a way to remind the readers of everything that happened (which, side note, means you need to remember--in precise detail--what happened, or spend a LOT of time going back and checking, like I had to), but you also have to then take all of that and find a way to continue with the story.

Which sounds simple enough except... plots have a way of taking on lives of their own and not going the way you expected them to. With Book 1, it's easy to let them do as they will because if you hit any walls you just brainstorm a solution and then go back and adjust as needed. But with Book 2 you can only go back so far. You can't let the plot do anything that will ruin/contradict anything you've already built in Book 1. Which I know sounds like it wouldn't be a problem--especially when you pre-plot the whole series like I did. But trust me--it was a BIG problem. Making KEEPER 2 work seriously broke my brain, and I'm SURE my amazing editor is in the process of catching all the things I still have wrong.

And then there's the whole challenge of creating a story that has a beginning, middle, and end but is also, in essence, the middle of the longer trilogy ARC. Yeah. Wrap your head around that one for a second. It. is. so. hard.

But all of that aside, I think the REAL challenge of Book 2 has to do with the fact that for most of us, it's the first time writing a book under contract, which has a whole other set of stresses and worries. A big one being: WHAT IF MY EDITOR HATES IT?????

Sure, we had that worry with Book 1 when we queried it and shopped it. Of course we did. But... it is SO MUCH WORSE when it's for a book you are CONTRACTUALLY OBLIGATED TO DELIVER. Trust me, that is a whole other REALM of pressure.

As if that weren't fun enough, you also catch yourself comparing book 2--in its rough, unedited state--to the shiny, super-polished, been-revised-a-billion-and-a-half-times state of book 1 and thinking: see--it's not good enough. It's never going to be good enough. Book 2 is going to be a raging disappointment and I'm going to let everyone down and my career will be over before it even began and ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! (Sadly, I'm not exaggerating--though it's possible not everyone is as neurotic as I am).

I'm very lucky that I have a seriously incredible editor who went out of her way to assure me that there was nothing I could do with book 2 that would scare her or make her doubt my abilities. But despite that, the nightmares of WHAT IF SHE HATES IT???? did not fully go away. Especially as the plot threw me twists and turns and led me farther and farther away from the synopsis her and I had originally discussed. It became an almost crippling fear that made me question every chapter, every sentence, every WORD---and it led to long hours staring at the screen, doubting myself, afraid to move on because what if it isn't right and I'm only making it worse?

Oh, and have I mentioned deadlines yet? Yeah, those are FUN--and the fear of what if I don't make it???? only seems to slow things down more

So, yeah. It's a bit stressful. And at this point I've probably thoroughly traumatized all of you and you're wondering: why is she telling us this????????

And the reason is: because someday you'll all be there too and I want you to know it's normal to struggle with book 2.

One thing that REALLY helped me through this process was knowing that I wasn't alone in what I was feeling. In fact, I had several friends fighting the same battle as I was and we'd send each other these long, desperate emails about how brutal this process was and somehow that made it better. We lost sleep together. We threw out large chunks of writing together. We stressed and obsessed together.

But the best part? The really, really awesome part?

We all survived.

And turned in our drafts on time!!!! 

And in my case, I've already heard back that Book 2 is on the right track!!!

(*pauses to happy dance*)

It still needs work--LOTS of work, I'm sure--but it's not the raging disaster I was afraid it would be.

And now that I'm on the other side of all that panic and worry I can see that even if it HAD been a mess, it still would've been okay. Because here's the thing that's SO HARD to remember when you're drafting book 2 for the first time: Editors LIKE editing. (I know, novel concept, right?)

They've also been through this eleventy billion times with eleventy billion authors and have seen it all. They trust you. So you need to trust them.

Trust that they want to work with you and are happy to help you fix any problems the draft may originally have. Which is--of course--why having an editor is such an incredible thing to begin with. They make you a better writer. And in order for them to do that, they have to catch your mistakes.

And yet, I knew that going in and I still couldn't shake off that crippling fear of WHAT IF SHE HATES IT??? You probably won't be able to either. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if that's just part of the process. It seems to be for a lot of us. So if it happens to you here's the only real advice I can give you: push through.

I can't tell you how many days I had to FORCE myself to open my draft and work on it. It wasn't easy and it wasn't always fun. But being a author is a job. An awesome job. But still a job. And to be professional means to push through the hard parts. Rally your friends around you. Whine and vent as needed. But keep writing. Keep going. Push through.

It will get better and you will get done. Everything will work out okay!

(And btw--can one of you guys remind me I said this in a few weeks? 'Cause yeah, thanks to my crazy schedule I have a SECOND book 2 to write this year and who knows if I'll have to fight this same battle all over again. *shudders*)


  1. Thanks for sharing this Shannon. The idea of writing a book 2 under contract terrifies me. It almost makes me not want to get published. But you're giving me hope that the fear is just normal and that writing a second book can be done. Thanks for letting us all know the fear is normal but we can do it.

  2. I'm betting the second Book 2 won't be as bad, at least emotionally. You're well-trained now and know exactly what to expect! It can still be a difficult book to write, but maybe your doubts won't feel so scary.

    At least I hope it will be that way for you. You'll have to let us know!

  3. Oh, Shannon, you are such a sweetie. Thanks for opening up about this, I think you are really helping people with your honesty. Don't stop. We love you. And I hope your second book 2 is less difficult for you. Did I mention I'm in awe of your mad writing skillz and optimism (2 book 2s in one year @_@!)? Good luck!

  4. How I love this, Shannon! Not least because of the reminder that "this is a job. And to be professional means to push through the hard parts." But my favorite part is "I can't tell you how many days I had to FORCE myself to open a draft and work on it." I so appreciate that you shared this with us, and I know that because you do see things this way that you'll put in the necessary work to get all the books in the series into great shape. You have a team, now. You're not doing it alone anymore. And although that brings its own pressures (contracts, expectations, deadlines), it brings the benefit of experienced, clear-sighted help. Really looking forward to following the story through to its conclusion! Crack on, lass, you're doing great!

  5. Yes, different type of pressures for book 2! But I guess the same process as for getting book 1 out! Yikes!! This is why I am in super duper AWE at you fab authors for going the whole mile and then some!!

    You're doing great Shannon!!

    take care

  6. Heyyyyy. You got this!

    I love sounding all laid back about this right now.ha We never doubted you.

  7. YAY! I'm so glad you heard back that book 2 is on the right track. :) I'm not surprised even a little bit, of course.

  8. We love you honesty. Of course, I never doubted your ability to succeed. It's refreshing to hear about your feelings as you push through to arrive on the other side. Brave! That's what I say, you are very courageous and we all get inspired by your fearless jumps into the abyss of doubt, only to rise above, brighter than before.

  9. I'm digging in to book #2 right now...and I kind of want to cry a little bit. Thanks for your honesty, Shannon. It's good to know I'm not alone. :)

  10. I completely agree with everything in this post. When I was writing the draft for book 2, I FREAKED OUT almost on a daily basis. I kept remembering that I had a deadline and I couldn't just let the muse be. It was so stressful. But yes, you get through it.

    I'm so glad your editor was happy with your book2! Although, I'm not surprised. :)

  11. It really must be terrifying! So glad you're on the right track with it - good luck with your next steps!

  12. Sequels suck (to write). Although I'm kinda itching to write the sequel to a YA paranormal but I want to query book 1 first...

  13. Oh my goodness, Shannon! You are so cute! I love reading your rants because your 'voice' is so strong, I feel like I'm in the same room with you. And because you say things I could totally see myself (or one of my girlfriends) saying.

    Thanks for keeping it "real" for us. Sometimes having the shiny perfection of another person's published words before us makes us put them on a pedestal. But your sweet, awesome "deer in the Editor's headlights" freak out moments just make me laugh and help me promise myself that someday, that will be MY set of problems. (sighs and daydreams for a moment before getting back to work)

    Thanks for the emote and reality check. Hope your next #2 goes a little more smoothly. :)

  14. Oh, my. Yes to all of this! I don't think I really had any clue how hard it would be. Or how much you would look at it in its rough form, after/during working with book 1 that is so pretty and shiny, and think you could die trying to get it into the same shape. But the biggest thing that blindsided me was character arcs! I had no idea how. freaking. hard. it would be in a book two. When I plotted out the series before I even started querying, it didn't occur to me to plot character arcs! Sigh. Ten chapters in, and I still don't have that one all the way figured out. Glad to know I'll survive. :) Thanks for that.

  15. This just rocks in so many ways. I'm not even totally done with Book 1 yet, and already I'm worrying about getting all the clues in the first book I need for 2 and 3, and if main scenes are coming too soon in the trilogy, and and and...

    AND I've spent forever on this book, so the idea of having a DEADLINE? Um...what???

    Anyway. Loved this. Thank you!!!