Friday, February 18, 2011

On the Second Book Funk

Free-form Friday

I've heard a number of published authors say they had a major crisis of confidence when they started their second book. They're haunted by the fear that they had only the one book in them and will never again be able to produce anything as good.

Why are writers susceptible to such fears?

Putting on my amateur therapist goatee and breaking out the bubble pipe, we have not one but two potential pitfalls awaiting us when we finish a project. The first is psychological and the second structural. They're a nasty pair because they feed off of each other. If you're not careful, you'll find yourself immobilized.

The Psychological Problem

In other professions, one can use a title only after a significant and demonstrable achievement. Lawyers have bar exams. Doctors have medical school, and internships, and residencies. Many other professions can't be practiced without a license. It's natural to assume that a published book is the writer's equivalent of professional certification.

Then there's the arduous process of turning ideas into prose, polishing the manuscript, and persevering through the publishing process, and you have every right to think that you've accomplished something significant. When you've done that, it's natural is to believe that you've learned something and are better at what you do.

The net effect is a tendency to believe that now you're good. You may have given yourself license to suck when you were starting out, but you're beyond that now, right? So you bang out the first few pages of the new project and ... they're not very good. And suddenly you have to question everything you assumed about your new identity.

The psychological trap is believing you've become something different than you were when you started your first project.

The Structural Problem

The more fundamental mistake is to forget the process by which you created your first book--the multiple drafts, the rounds of revisions, the hours spent agonizing over a key word or phrase.

You'll only succeed in depressing yourself if you compare your new project to the book you just finished. A project that's only a month old will always look primitive compared to one you've revised and polished for a year or two.

If you must compare something, compare first drafts. Chances are you'll find that the first draft for your second project is better than your first draft for your first project.

So What Can You Do?

Doctors, who have real credentials, practice medicine. Writers would do well to follow that example: we should see ourselves not as a someone who possesses some expertise but as someone who practices the art of refining words into stories through a patient process.


Image: Photography by BJWOK / FreeDigitalPhotos.net