Second Novel Syndrome

November 7, 2018

On Twitter today Ed McDonald, the amazingly talented author of the Blackwing novels wrote: "So far all that I've managed to discover is that I'm quite good at writing Blackwing again but with different character names."

He was talking about his attempts to get going with his next novel which is his second series. It's an issue I'm fighting with at the moment, in a battle that started six months ago after publishing The Knights' Protocol trilogy.

Second Novel Syndrome is a real thing. It's the blight of many a writer who goes back to Square One and finds the daunting task of starting at the beginning with something new and fresh, to be impossible.

"The second novel is well known to be much more difficult," says Jan Dalley, literary editor of the Financial Times. "Even those who have had success with their first novels - sometimes especially those who have - find second novels very hard. Nobody is interested in them any more as brilliant young things. They are now launched on their careers and they've just got to get on with it."

Stephen Fry says the first book will likely have had a long gestation period (10 years for me!) but the second book (or series) needs to be out in a limited amount of time. He describes the second as 'an act of professional writing. That is why it is so much more difficult.'

The general consensus seems to revolve around the problem of pressure that we put on ourselves - the time constraints, the expectations (ours and our readers) and the conditions to generate the ideas.

There's one other factor to take into consideration too - especially if publishing the first book/series has led to a full-time career as an author. Fear. The mind-numbing anxiety that you may not be able to replicate things. For many, this can lead to the building of the author's greatest enemy: writer's block.


So what is the answer?

Research suggests there isn't one. Great eh? It's all in your head - that's largely the conclusion experts suggest. You need to address those mental gremlins and give them a stern lecture and move on. 

Easier said than done eh?


For me, having struggled with this issue for six months, during which time I've dumped the WIP (see When the well runs dry) the answer appears to lie in finding a new style. I'd tried this with a YA novel but I realise now it imposed limitations to the factors I enjoyed writing - namely dark characters in dark situations. I appear to have found a character I can get behind, she's someone who is sufficiently different to my first protagonist though retains a few traits - in that they are both broken. But it's the style that's also captured my fascination and I'm back to enjoying my writing again. (Warning: i may retract that statement in 3 months time).

So Second Novel Syndrome is real. But believing in yourself, fighting the fears and doubts, remains an on-going battle. But then, it was the same first time round - so what's changed eh?


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