Second Album Syndrome or Writing Book Two


Killcare Beach

Killcare Beach

You’d like to think that after writing a book that’s picked up by a literary agent, the writing of book number 2 would come easily, wouldn’t you? But second album syndrome is alive and well in my creative neck of the woods.

Having been told to start writing book two IMMEDIATELY, by my agent (pause for a moment while I let the words ‘my agent’ sink in), I did what any self-respecting writer would do; I had a creative meltdown.

It sounded a little like this.

Start a whole new book? How can I start a whole new book when I’m creatively exhausted from writing the first book?  Find all those new words? Again? How can I do that when I have (practically) no idea what the second book is actually about.? Haven’t I done enough? I don’t want to do this again, it’s way too confronting. What if it’s terrible?

Cue – the sequel.

That seemed like an easy straw to grasp, but even that proved to be very slippery to hang on to. But it was something. So, with no idea where it might take me, I wrote a Chapter One, hoping that some miraculous epiphany would occur. It didn’t. But at least I had a chapter.

In a state of mounting panic, which has yet to fully subside, I went away for 4 days at great cost to the family I left behind. My husband, who paid the bill, my 23 yo daughter who became the live-in nanny for my 6 yo daughter and of course the 6yo daughter who doesn’t think her mother should go anywhere without her.

I made the 1½ hour trip up to Killcare on NSW’s Central Coast and made myself at home in a 2 bedroom cottage with a wonderful deck overlooking the ocean. and for 4 days I thought about Book Number Two. Away from the everyday clutter and distractions of my life, I could let my thoughts roam. If I was  being filmed by a fly-on-a-wall documentary team, this is what those 4 days would like.

Me having a leisurely breakfast of yoghurt and fresh fruit on the deck with the view. Then, after a second cup of tea, a walk down to the beach for a trudge along the sand and a swim and a bit more trudging.Tthe trudging would lead me to the local cafe for a coffee and a catch up on all things internet, emails, Twitter, Facebook, the odd phone call. All necessary, no procrastinating here. Then back up to the cottage for a light lunch and some scrawling, or looking through magazines for visual prompts. It was pretty taxing, so I’d have a little nap before some more afternoon scrawling and scribbling. By which time, I was thirsty and needing a glass of wine. Then dinner at the local club and of course uninterrupted TV viewing and book reading.

It might not sound like work, but by the end of those 4 days, I had worked out a roadmap for the story and had the bones of the first 2 chapters on which to hang the flesh of a story. I can’t go away every week, or conduct my normal life like this, but removing yourself from the distractions, giving yourself permission to think, to let ideas form, to listen to your characters is invaluable. And that’s how my first book was written. In the moments when I shut my brain off and let the ideas percolate, brew and take shape. It was written in the writing myself into the story and not dictating from above, basically, by getting out of my way.

How many of the words or ideas will actually make it into the final draft of book 2, I have no idea, but it’s not important now. I have made a start and that is what matters.

My house is cleanest when I should be writing

Occasionally Wife Swap accidentally appears on my TV screen. I don’t know how. I think my remote is faulty. Anyway, I’ve noticed that there are two kinds of women on Wife Swap. The Clean Freaks and the Dirty Slatterns.  The Clean Freaks peer into the spaghetti bolognese stained microwaves of the Dirty Slatterns and have a panic attack whilst reaching for the spray and wipe. The Dirty Slatterns walk in the front door of the Clean Freaks home and their hearts sink. No Grazia and Top Model in this household, no time for that, not when there are cushions to plump and floors to mop.

Let me confess. I am a slattern . But I do suffer from episodes of binge-cleaning, similar to the drinking variety but nowhere near as much fun. Even my youngest daughter, Miss E now 4, recognizes the symptoms and has asked me, when I’m frantically trying to do six months worth of a housework in a morning, who’s coming over. Ah yes, she’s already worked out that I only clean out of shame. And of course, every time I have one of these binge attacks, I faithfully promise myself to maintain a clean and morally pure household. Generally, it lasts about a day.

The second form of binge-cleaning is one of my procrastination tools and kicks in when all other forms have lost their edge. You’re reading this, so I’m guessing your familiar with the blog, Twitter, Facebook, email, news online variety of procrastination. It’s pretty similar. I sit down at my computer or to my notebook, pen poised and suddenly remember that fingerprint smear on the shower screen door that simply must be cleaned away. Immediately. And off I go, Windex in hand, telling myself it’s useful thinking time. Sure.

But, sometimes it is. That mindless squirting of Windex somehow lets the imagination roam and the shower screen door is left half-cleaned as I race off to scribble my ideas, that great piece of dialogue or metaphor.  And other times the house is as pristine as my blank piece of paper.

So, this afternoon The Producers of  Wife Swap would be casting me as the Clean Freak my kitchen is so sparkly. The thought of writing my first blog post sent me into a frenzy of polishing. But I faced down my nerves, the fear of the blank screen, of not being good enough and started typing.

I’m always jittery before I sit down to write. Worried the words won’t come, or not come in the right order or are not the right words. The words that other people want to read. I used to think that would go away, that eventually I’d approach my writing with confidence. I’ve come to accept that it’s part of my process and instead have faith that the desire to write will outweigh the fear and I will just go ahead and write anyway. With a side benefit, that if I’m really struggling. sometimes my house gets vacuumed.