It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. For many reasons, including that I’ve had my head down finishing off Novel #2, I’ve been busy scribbling Novel #3 (over 50,000 words in already) and I’ve been working on a few other projects (see below). I’m incredibly grateful to the many writers who have contributed posts for Writers in the Attic and kept this site ticking over.
Regular blogging is a mountainous commitment, so I’ve decided to break it down a bit and to blog in seasons, like podcasters do. (I must credit my friend, Amanda Kendle, for this brilliant idea.) It feels so much less onerous than a longterm, regular commitment.
So, I’ve prepared a season of about 10 blogs on various writing-related topics to share with you.
Over the years, I’ve written a few other posts on writing, creativity and the writing process – click here if you’d like to read them – and a few years ago, I wrote a post for Allison Tait’s blog on 10 Things I Learnt From Writing My First Novel. I thought it fitting to begin the 2022 blog season with a follow up to that.
10 Things I Learnt From Writing My Second Novel
When I started my second novel, I thought it would be easier than writing my first because I knew what I was doing, but that turned out to be untrue – I still had a lot to learn! I was struck down with a severe case of Second Novel Syndrome, which became a plague of self-doubt and no confidence. It wasn’t easy to overcome this, but here are some of the lessons I learnt.
1. Write for yourself
Don’t write for anyone else. You are your own best reader and, ultimately, the most important, if not only, person you need to please. There’s no point writing a book you don’t like, even if other people do. So write the book you want to write. Tell the story you want to tell. Write about things that matter to you, things you’re passionate about, characters you love, things you’re obsessed by. You have to front up every day to your manuscript and write the damn thing, and writing’s difficult as it is, so you owe it to yourself to write about what you love.
2. Don’t let anyone else into the writing room
When you’re writing your first novel, you’re on your own. There’s no publisher, no readers, no reviewers. There’s no one else’s voice in your ear. But after publication, you have all sorts of people in the writing room with you, people you think you need to please: publishers, editors, readers who loved your book, readers who hated it. They’re all in the room with you, in your head, reading your work over your shoulder, whispering in your ear and giving you their opinion:
‘No one wants to read about that.’
‘You can’t write that!’
Banish those voices – they’ll kill creativity and kill a brilliant idea before it’s been given a chance to flourish. Those people are only allowed in later – much later – when your book’s ready to be handed out to readers. Before that, the book is yours and yours alone. Just write the story you want to tell and worry about others’ opinions later.
3. Don’t compare yourself to others
You need confidence to write a novel and comparing yourself to other writers will only destroy that. When you read someone else’s writing and feel inadequate, remind yourself that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, even the best writers – they just disguise their flaws well – and you have your own unique voice and a story that only you can write. Each time you open your manuscript, try to fall in love with your writing and your story.
4. Trust yourself
You’ve already written one book and you can do it again. You have the goods, you know how to write a book, you’re up to it. You’re not a one-trick pony. The only things affecting your ability to write right now are the things I’ve listed above. Banish those other voices, love your own writing, and write a story you will be proud of.
5. Trust the writing process
Before your manuscript becomes a polished, readable book, it will become a big, multi-limbed monster of a mess. This is a normal part of the process, and it will all get sorted in the editing. Listen to your book and where it wants to go. Trust the writing – it will take you to wilder, truer places than you’d dare to go on your own. Go with it. Your story will be better, more thrilling, more marvellous if you do.
6. Tell the truest story you can
Write with honesty. Write from your heart. Make yourself vulnerable. Share your dreams, hopes, joys, crazy ideas, experiences, pain, disappointments, humiliations, shame – all of the things that make us human. Be generous and open your biggest heart onto the page. Take risks, even if you have to tell yourself you’re never going to show anyone what you’ve written. Chances are, it will be the best writing you do.
7. Use any trick to make writing pleasurable
Writing is hard work, so you owe it to yourself to make it as pleasurable as you can. Make your writing space nice – add a candle, a bunch of flowers, music if that’s your thing (although I prefer silence). Treat yourself with lollies or chocolate. Share your word count online if that helps. Write with friends – in-person or via Zoom – to make it less lonely. Anything that makes it something to look forward to, not dread.
8. Be willing to take feedback and rewrite
Getting feedback is hard, and it’s hard not to take it personally. When someone says, ‘This chapter isn’t working,’ they’re not saying, ‘You’re a shit writer and you should give up now,’ so try not to hear it like that. Don’t let it shatter you. Sit with the feedback for a day or two, feel the disappointment, then use the knowledge you’ve gained to drive you back to the story and make it better.
9. Prioritise your writing
It’s important to you, so it’s important. Period. Prioritise it because no one else will. Fight for it if you have to. (I wrote more about that in this post, Take Your Writing Seriously.) It’s irrelevant whether it’s earning you money or not; the important thing is you need to do it. If you don’t do it, you’ll never know what you could have created. So do it and give it everything you’ve got. Make someone else cook a few times a week. Leave the beds unmade. Get up an hour earlier or go to bed an hour later. Don’t vacuum. Get childcare. And don’t feel guilty for any of it, because you won’t finish your book if you let guilt steal your writing time.
10. Remember that writing and publishing are two separate things
And you only have control over the writing. So write the very best book you can, one you love and one you’ll feel proud of no matter what anyone else thinks.
FAWWA SUNDAY SESSIONS
Before I go, I want to let you know about the Sunday Sessions at FAWWA that are coming up next month.
These are a series of in-person masterclasses by WA’s leading writers, thinkers and publishers, and aimed to educate and inspire.
They will be held at Mattie Furphy House, 88 Kirkwood Road, Swanbourne, on Sunday June 12 and 19.