Thursday, June 7, 2012

Writing Book Two -- Getting Started

As promised on Tuesday, today's post is going to be about mentally switching from one book to another.  This might not seem like an issue.  And honestly, I didn't think I'd have any problem with it at all.  Boy was I wrong!  But when you've spent months or years immersed in the world of one novel, it's not easy to jump into a new one. 

I struggled with this.  After I turned in my edits to my editor, I took a few days off to just relax.  I figured this would be enough of a transition between books.  I worked in the garden.  I caught up on all of the chores that I let go while editing.  I was in general, a normal, sane person.  This did not last for long.  I don't know about you, but I need to write.  I need the routine of putting words on paper to feel like myself.  (And this wasn't a long break--maybe a week.) 

The problem was, every time I sat down to work on Book Two, I was mentally comparing it to Book One.  And at this stage, Book One seemed sooooo much better.  It took me a while to figure out that of course Book One seemed better.  I was at the end of years of work.  That world and those characters were comforting and familiar to me.  I didn't know much at all about Book Two.  Of course it was uncomfortable. 

I had to do was stop comparing the two books.  It really isn't fair to put a finished (almost) book up against a brand spanking new idea.  Especially if you're like me and your ideas tend to be vague, half-formed things at first. 

To stop comparing the books I did a few things.  First, I read.  A lot.  I went to the book store and if something looked interesting, I picked it up.  I read widely and outside of my genre.  I read just for the pure joy of immersing myself in someone else's work. 

I read while I'm writing, but not as much and at a much slower pace.  So spending this time just reading was incredible.  It helped me relax and clear my mind.  I came away motivated to work on Book Two, and when I sat down in front of the computer, the words flowed. 

The second thing I did was probably the biggest help.  I started researching Book Two.  Now this might seem like a sensible thing to do, but I'm a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of girl.  I like to sit down and start typing.  But I didn't know enough about my world so I got stuck.  Which made me anxious.  Which made me think I was a hack.  Which led me right back to Book One is soooo much better than Book Two.  (And don't even get me started on that whole sophomore book curse thing.  Gah! as if we don't have enough pressure!)

I took a step back and looked at what I knew about my story.  I knew where I wanted it take place.  I knew the male and female protagonists and a few minor characters.  I also knew what magical element I wanted to introduce in to book.  Not a lot, but that's what I had.  I had no idea what actually happened in the book, but then plot is almost always the last thing that falls into place for me. 

I started by researching the setting.  For me that means the actual land (trees, plants, hills, valleys, etc.).  I need to know the land because I think we are influenced by the ground upon which we stand.  A person raised in wide open spaces will think differently from someone raised in the mountains. 

As I was researching the setting, I would find neat little tidbits like local customs or superstitions.  If it was interesting, I made a note of it and then researched that.  Often, these rabbit trails led to really cool things that I added to my notes.  Sometimes they were dead ends, but even researching the dead ends helped me focus on Book Two.  Essentially, I began immersing myself in this new world I was creating. 

After the setting, I moved on to the characters.  I started thinking about them and how they interact with the land.  How they were shaped by circumstance and place.  Gradually, Book Two began to occupy more space in my mind and thinking about it became easier. 

Finally, one more thing I did that might not apply to you, but it sure made a difference to me, and that is I set a writing schedule and I stuck to it.  With my kids out of school for the summer, my writing time has diminished drastically.  As I said before, I'm someone who needs to write to feel normal.  Having a schedule in place allows me to be present with my kids without worrying about how I'm going to cram in some writing time later.  I don't have as much writing time as I do when they're in school, but it is sufficient.  And it helps me stay focused.  

I hope this has helped.  Remember, what worked for me might be different for you.  Research has been a huge help for me, but it might be distracting for you.  The key is to find what works for you and then do that no matter what someone else says. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this! I feel less alone now with my own struggles to get immersed in book #2.

    My problem is I keep getting stalled at the beginning, trying to write the most compelling opening chapter in the history of literature before I move on. I can see that I need to let the beginning remain unfinished for now - let it be worse than my first book, which, like you, I spent years polishing - and just plow forward. I'll come back to the beginning later and make it shine. I know all this intellectually, but it's been hard to do.

    Part of my trepidation is that I'm writing about a location and time period that I have no personal experience with, so research is playing a bigger role in my writing than ever before. The little voice in my head keeps saying, "Who are you to write about this? You're not going to be able to pull this off!"

    Ugh. I think the only solution is to take your advice and stick to a strict writing schedule, just start getting the words on the page and worry about perfection later.

    Thanks again, this was helpful.

  2. We must have the same little voice in our heads! I hear "You're not going to be able to pull this off" all the time! Ugh, is soul-crushing. I think you're right though, you've just got to push through it. And don't even get me started about perfection. Switching from a finished, polished work to something that's messy and unorganized, and let's face it, just bad sometimes, is soooo much harder than I thought it would be.

    At least we know we're in it together. That always helps me!

  3. Stephanie, I hit a lot of the same problems you have - I'm a pantser too and it felt unnatural to stop and research, I wanted to rack up the word count. But I've made myself slow down, take the time to 'strike the old set' and build a new one - because there was so much of the old book's world still in my head. I've tried everything you mention except for the schedule. My kids are out of school too and I was thinking it's all down hill until September -BUT! maybe I don't have to give up. Maybe setting up a strict schedule will help me. I'm going to give it a try. I can't tell you how amazing it is to know that there are other writer's in the same boat - I'm not alone in my craziness! Hurray!

    1. Alex,

      Knowing I'm not alone helps me also! I struggled with this for so long by myself--I mean, I have an agent now, shouldn't I know what I'm doing? Not so much. New book means new struggles.

      I have to say, the schedule has be the biggest help to me. It helped me feel like I'm not falling too far behind. I guess it let me feel like if I can't control Book Two, I can at least control my writing time!