Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SO YOU WANT TO WRITE A NOVEL

by Sonja Stone

Leap and the net will appear. 

Or you'll plummet to your death. It could go either way.



HOW HARD CAN IT BE?

I started my first novel on a whim. My kids were in middle school, and a popular book series had just been made into film. All of my kid’s friends had already seen it. Girls were swooning over the love story. I’m a very slow reader, so I went to the theater to prescreen the movie (yeah, I’m that mom). The resounding message I heard from the story was this: Hey, girls. If you want to be with that hot boy, you have to change everything about yourself. Yes, he’s just told you he’s dangerous and you shouldn’t hang out with him. Yes, he warned you that he’ll hurt you—deeply. But go ahead… It’s worth giving up every part of yourself, all of your friends, your family, just to be with him.

Needless to say, I didn’t approve the movie for my kids. To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed the film—it was an exciting storyline. But this wasn’t the message I wanted my children to hear. I hadn’t yet discovered The Hunger Games (if I had, I probably wouldn’t have written a book—I would’ve just passed that one along to the kiddies), so I decided to write the story I wanted them to read, the one where the girl saves herself, and then she saves the boy. And so, DESERT DARK was born.

Each morning after driving them to school I’d settle in at my desk and write the day’s pages. Each afternoon they’d read the story, offer critiques, ask questions. At dinner we’d discuss the plot—I’d get stuck, they’d give me ideas. I fumbled my way through the process because, as usual, I couldn’t be bothered to learn HOW to do something before jumping in (again, if I had, I probably wouldn’t have written a book. Ignorance really is bliss). I wrote the manuscript, found an agent, sold it to a publisher… I had arrived, right?

WHICH BRINGS ME TO...

I’m currently in the thick of the second draft of my second novel. My oldest child is away at college; my youngest is a senior in high school. They have neither the time nor the inclination to read my manuscript several dozen times. I find myself rudderless; I relied on their help even more than I realized. I’m left to plot alone, to breathe life into my characters without the guidance of my target audience. I’m at that point in the writing process where I hate my work. I hate the story, I hate the setting, I hate the people. The first book was a fluke; when the sequel goes to print I’ll be found out—exposed as the hack that I am.

I’ve been here before. I remember hating drafts of my first novel. But I can’t for the life of me recall how to navigate from this place. I had time. TIME. I’m slow. I’m a slow writer, a slow reader, a fast processor but slow to articulate the thoughts that break the sound barrier in my mind. I had seven years to write my first novel. Years to tweak, refine, polish. The second book is due in less than a month. I’ve been working diligently for the past year… I’m just slow.

Writing is solitary work. I require silence; no music, no people, no television in the background to keep me company. As an introvert, I love working by myself. But when it’s not going well, it gets lonely.

Want to know what’s keeping me off the ledge? Steve Berry

Steve Berry with KJ Howe, celebrating the release of THE FREEDOM BROKER
Steve Berry with KJ Howe, celebrating the release of THE FREEDOM BROKER

Last July at ThrillerFest, Steve led a panel discussion on this very topic: he calls it second-book-itis. David Corbett, Barry Lancet, Chris Reich, M.J. Rose, John Sanford, and Simon Toyne shared their struggles—and they were many—about pushing through the second book. 

Corbett said he had ten years to write the first book and ten months to write the second; he thought it stunk but the reviewers loved it. Toyne claimed to have written his on pure fear (which for him translated to high-octane energy). Sanford tracks his daily word count, as he finds himself lost and depressed mid-book: he can’t see the end nor can he remember the beginning. Boy, I can relate.

I’m comforted to know that I’m not alone. For many writers, this struggle is par for the course. I’d hoped to be the exception, but such is life. And I’m so grateful to the authors named above for sharing their second-book-itis trials and tribulations. These are the voices inspiring me.

Steve Berry moderates SECOND-BOOK-ITIS: ThrillerFest 2016
SECOND-BOOK-ITIS: ThrillerFest 2016 

WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, USE A MANTRA

If you don't have one at the ready, feel free to borrow mine.



Leave your zen-like advice in the comments below!

8 comments:

  1. I'm especially lucky. I'm writing my first book, and I have the support of Gayle Lynds!

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  2. John, you ARE lucky! I can't imagine a better mentor than Gayle!

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  3. It's sad when your kids are no longer reliable readers. Been there, too.

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  4. Wait a minute, Sonja -- let's focus on the positive here. First, you ARE an accomplished writer (that means you really have talent!) With your very first endeavor, you became a published author -- beating all the odds. Some time ago an agent told me that of all the "writer wannabe's" - 2% get agents and 1% get published. Second, I loved DESERT DARK, and I'm sure I will love your second book too. And third, all of those great writers on the panel you mention hunkered down and came up with their own second acts, just as you will too. Obviously your publisher likes the premise or you never would have been offered a second contract. So - relax, my friend, pour a second cup of coffee but don't have second thoughts.

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  5. Ah, the dreaded number 2. So tough. I remember thinking "wait they want me to do this AGAIN?" But never worry, you're on a roll!

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  6. S. Lee, right?? I'm just preparing for the empty nest.

    Karna and Jamie, thank you so much for the encouragement! Karna, I had no idea the numbers were so low!

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  7. LOL. I'm currently suffering ninth-book-itis, so you have my absolute sympathy. No doubt you'll prevail. You will also survive the empty nest -- or that's what I keep telling myself. My baby is now 25 and she's been teaching middle school for two years, but I'm still happiest when she comes home and stays in her old room. Heck, we have six kids and, while all our friends lament the fact their kids have boomeranged, we always hoped one might come back. Now we settle for visits and are grateful they all graduated from college, got jobs and have lives they enjoy. Now I follow my husband around the house when he comes home from work and demand that he weigh in on the recent developments in my stories. I'm not sure if this new practice is more harmful to my book or my marriage, but the dog's been offering no advice lately, so.... Hang in there! If your second book is anything like Desert Dark, you're in for a long career!

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  8. Oh, Christine, your comment made me laugh! Your poor husband--I have subjected many loved ones to that same torture! The empty nest is bittersweet: we've worked so hard to prepare our children for life. Ideally, we've taught them enough that they don't need us. But then--gasp--they don't need us!

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