I think I might have ‘Second Album Syndrome’. You know, where a band get the first album under their belt, then have to live up to expectations with the second, which makes for a certain pressure, which makes it harder to be creative, which makes for a certain pressure…
Publishing The Ground Will Catch You was, as I’ve said often, an intense period of my life due to my perfectionist tendencies. A lot of this stems not only from pride, but also from having been a proofreader for many years. Obviously we are human beings, not machines, so while perfection may not always be attainable, it is always the goal. It’s the reason I bristle when I spot more than one or two typos in a book – you wouldn’t be happy with a CD that jumped a few times, so why should a book be any different?
How exactly does this relate to Second Album Syndrome? Well, I’m about 10,000 words into the new book and struggling. I don’t have writer’s block, I’ve just been feeling that I’m only part way down a very, very long road, and I can’t see the end. A few signposts, yes; one or two landmarks, but not the end. And, psychologically, that’s quite a burden to carry.
But I think I may have a solution, and I’m hoping you might find it useful.
Apparently there are two types of writers: planners and ‘seat of the pantsers’. I believe I’m somewhere in between. I have a basic outline of the plot (which I’ve laid out in Scrivener, of course), I’m doing various bits of research (again, Scrivener), but every time I write 1,000 words or so of my actual text I look back and think to myself, ‘Well, it’s all very pretty, but things haven’t moved forward that much. What if I’m wasting a lot of time heading down a dead end, without realising it?’ And then I squint into the distance, down the long, long road, and that Champagne breakfast with a copy of my new book in hand is not even a speck on the horizon. And that’s demoralising.
The solution? Adjectives, people – adjectives. Take them out. Banish them. Put them in a holding pen, or send them out to graze for a few months. Whatever. Just forget about being descriptive. Forget all about the pretty bits – that can come later, with the second draft.
Everyone knows that a novel takes more than a few drafts before it’s finished – I’m not here to point out the obvious – but what I will say is that right now my main character is simply being functional. He’s going from A to B, doing X, Y and Z on the way. I’m not adding any colour. None at all. It’s all grey, like a rough charcoal sketch. And you know what? He’s getting from A to B quicker, and therefore so am I. We’re going down that road together, and as we do, new things are occurring to me, new possibilities, which I’m adding to my notes (see Scrivener, above). If I go down a dead end, it’s not as painful any more because a minimal amount of time will have been wasted.
All of this is making the writing process much more of a rush, more fun. And, most importantly, less pressurised. I’ve started to see results, secure in the knowledge that when I get to the end, it will be equally pleasurable to go back and lay some flowers among the bones.
So there you have it: my shortcut to that far-off point in the distance. Hopefully this will have been of some use to you. Either way, enjoy the journey.