An Ode to the Second Book

My awesome ThrillerFest mug

My awesome ThrillerFest mug

Yesterday I arrived home after an incredible four days at ThrillerFest. If you are a writer and you write or like thrillers or mysteries, add ThrillerFest to your bucket list right away. Put on by the International Thriller Writers and held in downtown NYC, it's a amazing conference for aspiring, emerging and established writers full of panels, cocktail parties and other wonderful events. 

One of the great things about the International Thriller Writers organization is that they run a Debut Authors Program that provides support, mentorship and exposure to writers trying to launch their first novels. As part of ThrillerFest, the debut group was given access to established writers so that we might ask questions and pick their brains. The weekend culminated for us with the Debut Breakfast, an event where NYT bestselling author Steve Berry presented each of us to a ballroom full of writers, agents, publishers. We were writer Debutantes. It was fantastically fun.

Over the weekend, a topic often raised among debuts was that of the Second Book. The pain of writing it. In his remarks, Steve Berry called it an illness - second-book-itis. Your first book is out in the world and now you're tasked with writing the second one. But when you sit down to do it, it feels different. This time, you might have a tighter deadline. This time, you can't climb your way out of those writing blocks or fits by declaring that no one will ever read it anyway. You know the book will one day be an actual book. There are new pressures this time. And so the illness sets in, that plague of writerly self-doubt.

Today, I'm back from New York and back at my own second book. Still Mine has a sequel, as might be obvious to those who've read it. I nearly have a first draft of this second book, but it's messy. It's a strange thing to be here again, at the relative beginning. My sentences haven't been tidied up by rounds and rounds of editing. My characters need more to say and do. The plot is still wayward. I know I can fix these things, I know I have a wonderful editor to help me once I'm ready for her, but it still feels different. Like childbirth, maybe: Even though I've done it before and on some level I can anticipate it will be easier, there's this new anxiety that wasn't there last time. Because this time, I know how much it hurts. 

Hold on. Let's not get too dramatic. I was going to call this post The Second Book Blues, but I opted not to because, hey, I'm trying to be hopeful.

I have this internal game I play in all areas of my brain/life. Any time I feel anxious or stressed or or worried or (worst of all) resentful of a task ahead, another part of me steps in to remind myself of my profound good fortune that this task exists in my life at all. This works for things like motherhood or writing, but less so for things like laundry or cleaning out my car. This is the gist: Yes, it's stressful to write a book. It's hard. It takes time I don't always have. But I wrote a book and it got published and it's done well enough that they want me to write a second. And a third!!! A THIRD. I wouldn't have it any other way, so I'd better stop worrying or complaining and get to it. 

Steve Berry offered us debut authors the simple antidote: Put your head down and write. When the doubt creeps over, don't stop to gaze at it. Ignore it. Push it away by putting words on the page no matter what. Keep writing. I think he's exactly right. I'll add my mix of gratitude to that and I'll be fine. And maybe the odd glass of Pinot. Or two.