Second Book Syndrome
Today's guest blogger is Kate Veitch, author of Trust. Enjoy! “Ah yes, the curse of the second novel,” said my agent in a shockingly off-hand way, and I, who’d been whining about how much more difficult I was finding writing this one than my first, just about dropped my coffee cup.
“Curse? Oh no, don’t say that!” I’d heard about ‘second novel syndrome’, of course, which I imagined as a form of writer’s block. I’d thought to beat it by starting work on #2 early, even before #1 (Without a Backward Glance) was released, and at first, that seemed to work: the words were pouring out. Gushing; flooding. Okay, I like to use dialogue to develop character and advance plot, but this lot just wouldn’t shut up! Sometimes I’d find myself staring at my laptop in a kind of horror as my fingers flew over the keys as though possessed.
Even as my agent, sitting in that New York café three years ago, murmured apologetic reassurance, I saw the truth of it. I had not escaped second novel syndrome: it had snuck up on me when I wasn’t looking, and now had me under its long-winded, endlessly digressing spell. Curses, indeed!
Why me? Why now? Was it because my first novel had enjoyed such good luck? Such ingratitude, to blame one of the most unexpected and terrific things that had ever happened to me! Then I read an interview with Jeffrey Eugenides. "No one is waiting for you to write your first book,” he said. “No one cares if you finish it. But after your first, if it goes well, everyone seems to be waiting. You go from having nothing to lose to having everything to lose, and that's what creates the panic."
Panic. Yes, that’s what I was feeling, like a parent who can’t find their child in a crowded place. I’d glimpse my characters’ true selves for a moment, and then they’d jostle each other aside, chattering incomprehensibly. The plot was careering out of my control, like a car stolen by drunken joyriders. Hold on! Where are we?
I’d lost my way, but I had to keep writing. After the first draft, I carved off two-thirds of it and built it back up from the core. And still, again and again, I would find myself bushwacked, blindfolded and stumbling. Find my way back. Delete, delete, delete! After the third draft, my sainted editor told me kindly but firmly that I had to cut 30,000 words. She was right. I did. But I’d lost faith that this novel would ever come right. Even after the final draft was typeset, and I was supposed to be merely proofreading, I still had to fine tune it one last time.
It was all worth it. Trust launched in Australia May 2, and to my immense relief, the response from Australian critics has been wonderful – as you can see here. In the US, I’m honored that it’s an IndieBound ‘Notable’ pick for July.
Best of all, I’ll never have to go through second novel syndrome again. What’s that you say? “The curse of the third novel?” Noooo! (Runs shrieking from room, hands clamped over ears...)
Kate Veitch is the author of the breakout first novel, Without A Backwards Glance, and the just released, Trust. She lives in Australia, but is prone to globe-trotting. You can watch her interview on Author here.