Quick note: WU friend Therese Fowler’s second novel, Reunion, is released today. Go on and show her some love.
I received my first pass pages for The Last Will of Moira Leahy late last week and started going through them in earnest yesterday. For those of you who don’t know (and I didn’t, until recently), first pass pages are like “take one” of the final pages of your book. Everything is in place–the pages are typeset with the proper fonts and laid out the way they’ll be once bound, the title page is designed with whatever art your book may have, your dedication and acknowledgment pages are there before you. Seeing them is like receiving a big pinch from reality–yes, yes, this is happening.
I went through and micro-read about 35 pages yesterday (which was equivalent to ~60 manuscript pages), examining every detail, including punctuation. Between the last time I saw the script and now, my copyeditor’s notes–and my notes on his notes–have been entered by typesetters to create what now sits on my desk. It’s my job to double-check that everything was entered correctly and to read through it all again, just in case I need to make any additional changes. The publisher has been clear that this is the last time an author has to make major changes to the book. The finish line is in sight.
Yesterday, I was struck with two things.
The first is that I could edit this story forever. Though I don’t anticipate making any major changes to the script at this point, I still have a word or two every few pages that I’m bettering. No surprise there.
The second realization wasn’t one I’d expected, though.
You know that feeling you get when you start to read a new book, when you haven’t yet decided to sink into it and trust the author? If you stumble over a sentence or find yourself confused by a description or read prose that falls flat, you may close a book’s cover, never to return to its pages again. Well, yesterday I noticed that I was able to read my script like a real reader. I fell into the story quickly.
I trusted myself.
Yep, relief flooded me, and not just because I’m cautiously hopeful that readers may trust me, too. I immediately transferred my warm and fuzzy I-trust-this-author feeling to the mess-in-progress that is book #2. It allowed me to relax a little while considering its ginormous plot holes or that I still have to develop several secondary characters and do a ton of research, that the most grueling work lies ahead of me. I can face them, because I am an author I trust.
There’s a widespread assumption that an author’s second book is doomed. How many authors have fallen prey to that self-fulfilling prophecy? I’m sure it’s normal for doubt to set in after you’ve sold your first book. Can you do it again? Are you really author material, or were you just lucky that one time? Will things fall into place the way they did before? Is it probable? On a deadline? How is anyone supposed to write with all those doubts floating around?
You just do. Because this isn’t a fairy tale in which all of your writing ability vanishes at the stroke of midnight.
Audrey Niffenegger just sold her second novel, Her Fearful Symmetry, for a reported 4.5 million. Stephanie Kallos’s second novel, Sing Them Home, following the success of her debut, Broken for You, was very well received (and everyone should read her essay, “How to write your second novel, or If you want to make God laugh, show Him your outline“). Keith Donohue’s second novel, Angels of Destruction, sounds fantastically ambitious (he authored The Stolen Child). Our own Allison Winn Scotch hit the NYT’s best-seller list with her second novel, Time of My Life. And I’m sure Therese Fowler’s Reunion will be superb.
Do you feel an inspirational speech coming on? Me, too.
Believe that you can be the author who readers will one day pick up and stick with, who they’ll trust. Believe that you have the chops to write the book that’ll make a million keeper shelves. And if you’ve already written one of those fine works and you’re struggling with book #2 or #10, try this: Keep your destination in mind. Imagine how the book will end, how things will wrap up for your characters. And then sit down and make your characters walk toward that goal, flinging plenty of impressive roadblocks in their way. Big, bold steps or baby steps, it doesn’t matter. They’ll get there despite the roadblocks, and so will you, as long as you press on.
We trust you.
If you have occasional bouts of self-doubt, how do you handle it? What can you point to as evidence that you should trust yourself?
Write on, all!
Photo courtesy Zhang Jingna at deviant art.