Project January

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This is the titular chapter from my latest book, Project January: A Sequel About Writing.

*****

If you’ve read my book Project December: A Book About Writing or the various Project… blog posts on this blog, then you’ll know Project October is about intensive writing, Project November is about editing and revision, and Project December is about getting your book published. And, of course, I hope it makes sense that Project January is about starting all over again.

The pride and relief at finishing and finally publishing a book is wonderful. But the realisation that all that hard work, all the blood, sweat and tears that it took, all the back and forth, all of the begging for beta readers, all the doubt and belief and doubt again, the realisation that all of it simply rewinds to deposit you back at the beginning again can be hard.

Some people only want to write one book, only have one book in them. If that’s you and you’re okay with it, great. For the rest us who don’t want to be one-book wonders, we’re confronted with an entirely different set of problems from when we began writing our first books. So here are a few things to consider to help get you back on track to another Project October, Project November and Project December.

It Probably Won’t Be the Same Process
How could it be when you’ve learned so much from writing the first book? My first novel took nearly four years to write and my second novel took just six months. And my third novel has so far taken more than four years and remains unfinished, although agonisingly close to completion.

Even if the basic writing process is the same, you won’t be the same person. Your life will be different from one book to the next. Your responsibilities will be different. Something will be different. So it’s important not to judge yourself based on a comparison of accomplishments, of attaining the numerous small goals that add up to a whole book. Each book will be its own adventure.

It Doesn’t Have to Be a Sequel
I’ve mentioned this before but within a week of publishing my debut novel, Enemies Closer, people had read it and contacted me to ask when the sequel would be coming out. It had taken eight years from conception to publication so it was going to take a little longer than one week for another. And now four years after it was published, the sequel to Enemies Closer remains unfinished. I’ve written four other books instead.

Because I didn’t and still don’t know what the story of the sequel is. I had set up a group of characters and given some of them mysterious pasts that would be well worth exploring but even I couldn’t figure out what those mysterious pasts were and how they could fit into another action adventure story.

There’s nothing less inspiring than trying to write something for which the inspiration refuses to come. And your readers will feel much the same reading it as you felt writing it if the passion isn’t there.

It Doesn’t Have to Be the Same Genre
When I wrote Enemies Closer, I didn’t specifically want to be an action adventure writer. I just wanted to prove that women could be more than kidnapping targets and bikini-clad bimbos in that very male-dominated genre. And when it came time to write my next novel, I didn’t specifically want to be a literary crime author. It was just that the story I wanted to write pushed me in that direction. And when a friend suggested I should write for a young adult audience to take advantage of the appetite in that market, I thought why not?

There are plenty of writers who write the same genre and the same universe and the same character in book after book and there are plenty of readers who are glad of it. But I tend to get bored. I like switching things up every now and then and it usually coincides with the end of one book and the start of another. (Thank goodness, I’d be screwed if it happened before I’d finished writing the book.)

If you’re determined to explore a different genre, particularly if it’s one that the readership you’ve built up from your previous book won’t necessarily appreciate, then make sure you do it well. It might not be their cup of tea but at least they’ll be able to appreciate it objectively.

It Doesn’t Even Have to Be a Novel
Despite writing and trying to write four other novels, with varying levels of success, since I published my first book, my second published work ended up being not fiction but non-fiction. Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans. And my second book was what happened while I was busy writing a blog and various other novels.

Memoirs are big business these days. Essays do a reasonable trade, too, if your topics, your perspective and your writing style are interesting enough. And, of course, people are always shelling out for how-to guides, even if the only reason they’re wealthy is because of the number of how-to guides they’ve been able to sell. Project December: A Book About Writing, the second book I referred to above, was one of those how-to guides on writing, editing and publishing.

Don’t feel obligated. Write whatever you want. And be prepared to go wherever it leads you.

Avoid the Bruce Willis Problem
“How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice?”
John McClane (played by Bruce Willis) in Die Hard 2

Well, if you want people to read and enjoy your second book, it can’t (or, more accurately, it shouldn’t) be the same shit happening to the same guy twice. Bruce Willis can get away with it because he’s Bruce Willis and because he self-deprecatingly acknowledges that he is living the Bruce Willis problem. But for the rest of us, if we want to read a story in which the same shit happens to the same guy twice, we can just read the first book again.

Any attempt to simply recreate the first book, regardless of how many small details differ, will likely suffer because you’ll be bored writing it and readers will comment that it seems awfully and boringly familiar.

Avoid the Hugh Howey Problem
In the same vein, you shouldn’t simply write your second book in order to be different from your first. After the success of Wool, Shift and Dust, Hugh Howey did a very large U-turn and wrote The Shell Collector, which I can only describe as dystopian environmental science fiction romance. (Perhaps he was experiencing a problem I’ve heard publishers speak of – writers forced into publishing a book that isn’t good or isn’t ready simply to meet deadlines. Most of us aren’t unlucky enough – or lucky enough, depending on your perspective – to have this problem.) I don’t know whether he did it deliberately to distance himself from his previous works but it was a strange choice. Not because it was so different from his successful trilogy but because it was different and it was bad.

*****

The second time around – regardless of what it is you are attempting to do – is universally acknowledged to be difficult. The second book, the second album, the second movie, the second year playing football. Often it’s because the first effort has been so well received and the pressure of expectations can impact us detrimentally. But if you can remember that you write for yourself first and foremost and not get pressured into doing anything before you are good and ready to (as well as keeping all the above points in mind), then you’ll be well on your way to avoiding the second book blues.

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