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.

A Simple Pleasure

A rain-dampened frangipani

There are some pleasures  so simple, so quiet that it’s easy to ignore them as a moment of beauty in one’s life. But over this very wet summer I have been deprived of one of these pleasures on a very regular basis.

Early in the morning, when the dew still glistens on the grass and the droplets hang on back-lit spider webs like decorations on Miss Haversham’s wedding table, I take my cup of tea into my garden and wander. It’s a small inner city garden so this is not a lengthy exercise, but it is a time of quiet solitude. My gaze wanders across the blush-tinged frangipani, herbs, the potted citrus trees, the blood-red roses,whilst  trying to ignore the hot pink trampoline that has recently taken up residence.

Some mornings, my cat stretches lazily and pads around next to me, as I de-aphid the roses, try to find the caterpillars munching happily and hungrily through my lemon tree’s leaves and pick some frangipani blooms to float in a bowl. But mostly it’s just me, my cup of tea and my roaming thoughts.

But this summer of record rainfalls, I have retreated to my study that overlooks the back garden. The grass is lush and way past its mowing use by date, the herbs  are also enjoying the rain, but the blush-pink frangipani are brown-bruised and the roses covered in black spot. And my roaming thoughts are contained, restrained and more often than not, accompanied by my not very quiet 5 year old.

I’ve tried a change of venue, taking my morning tea to my front balcony and gazing across the harbour, watching the morning rowers, unfazed by the rain, the ferries and the rippling of the water as the rain disturbs its surface. And it’s beautiful, no doubt about it, but it’s not the same as being in my small plot of nature, touching, nurturing and thinking.

The sunset view

I’m not one for bush walking, camping or other more earthy displays of communing with nature. But even my urban soul yearns for the calming influence of nature on balmy Sydney mornings that isn’t met by a morning walk or a harbour view. Nor is it a particularly beautiful or exotic garden, but it is quiet and peaceful in the early morning and allows me to think freely in a way I don’t do elsewhere.

So, I’m longing for La Nina to pass. For the weather to return to the drier and fresher air of a Sydney Autumn so I can resume my  simple morning pleasure.

On Silence

We live in a noisy world. And we fill our worlds with noise.

In our homes there is the TV, music, radio, the temptation of youtube and the ever present phone. We exercise to music, even when walking or running people have headphones in listening to music or podcasts. At the massage therapists, the beauty therapist or hairdresser there is noise and music. Even my doctor’s waiting room has the gentle trickle of a water feature and Enya-esque muzak wafting around the non too sterile environment.

When, I wonder, do people think? When can you sit with your thoughts, allow them to develop, mature, take you away on an adventure, or blossom into ideas worth nurturing? How do you hear the voice of a character or even process your daily life if you don’t give yourself a break from the strident feedback that surrounds us?

I love quiet, solitude and silence. When I walk, I walk without an iPod and let my thoughts undulate and meander to the pace of my walk. I sit in quiet when I write, not even gentle music ripples through the background. It’s the only way I can listen to my thoughts undisturbed, without the rhythm of the music forming, infusing my writing.

I think. It may look like a blank stare, and sometimes it is, but the time to just be is precious.

I was inspired to write about this by this wonderful video, posted by my friend and writing mentor Jan Cornall – I’m very good at distracting myself with the silent distractions of Facebook and Twitter!