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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Second Novelitus

by Gary Tinnams

In July 2012 I finished my first novel ‘Threshold Shift’ with a mixture of pride and relief. I had done it, I had written a book when just a year earlier the whole notion of writing a book had seemed insurmountable. What seemed even more unlikely, I believed I had written a good book, one that told the story I wanted to tell in the way I wanted to tell it. A book I had written with no market in mind, no shoehorning, just doing what I wanted to do and doing it well.

Foolishly I half expected this to make my book stand out, become a bestseller, you know, all the pipe dreams of the first time novelist that we all have. That didn’t happen. I’ve had some good reviews, I’ve had no bad reviews, but none of this has been reflected in sales. What was wrong? The cover? The story? The marketing? Actually I’ve just come to the conclusion that it’s really down to time and dumb luck. To become an overnight success takes years. I need to read a lot more, write a lot more, in essence I need to not give up. But there’s something else as well, something very basic. I have to keep enjoying it.

I started a second novel in October 2012 with the belief I could finish it by the end of the year. I finished something, but when I looked at it, it wasn’t any good, not good at all. I was convinced that my fist novel was fantastic and this new novel was just plain awful. For those three months, I had slogged, I had written, but there had been no joy, no fulfilment, the process had become an empty one. I was just putting words down and hoping something would stick and it hadn’t. I put away that novel and said to myself I would have another go in the 2013 and I would enjoy it.

So in January I started again, the story roughly the same but less rough, the characters more fully formed. I had more fun, but by the end of April all I had was a mess. It still didn’t work, it was still rubbish. Was I being overly self critical? Had my writing really deteriorated so much since the first book? It was then that I determined the cause, I had second novelitus. When you write your first novel, you realise you can write. When you come to the second novel, you realise you can write anything, anything at all. Too many choices, too much indecision, too much internal questioning, too much benchmarking what you are writing now against what you have already written. My second attempt at a second novel was a bust.

In May 2013, I decided that my second novel was never going to be a patch on my first, but if I never finished it, if I just gave up, then that would be it. No second novel meant no third novel, no fourth novel etc etc. I sat down again and decided that this time I would finish, this time no matter how bad it was, there would be an end to it. So in May I started again, looking at the first two drafts I took from them what I liked and left what I hated. I changed characters, removed characters, gave some more development, gave others less and worked out the story elements in detail.

Even with all this enthusiasm and determination it was still rubbish and yet by chapter six there was a glimmer of the old first novel writer. By chapter ten it was happening, properly happening. I finished in August, re-edited until a week ago, and came to the conclusion that while this was an altogether different beast to my first novel, it was also a novel in its own right. There was action, tragedy, pace, self-discovery in as good, if not a better, mix than the first novel. I have now sent it off to be edited and I’m hoping my editor will agree with me. But even if she doesn’t, I finished the second novel, finished it! I know the first one wasn’t a fluke, and in the end I actually enjoyed doing it again. I’m confident I can write a third one, and that even if I do occasionally spout rubbish, none of that effort was ever truly wasted.

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