Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Writing the Second Book

By Amy MacKinnon

So a friend just emailed, asking for advice on writing the second book. Me. Laughable and wholly misguided considering how many times my dear friend Lynne Griffin had to talk me off the ledge. It takes a great deal of faith to write a book, a whole lot more to write the second. This is how I responded and I hope you'll share your experiences with your own writing process:

As for writing the second book, you will be filled with dread, self-competition (a word you make up because you no longer have any grasp over language), anxiety, self-loathing, thoughts of self-mutilation, your finger will constantly hover over the delete key, your first chapter will suck and suck and suck, your trusted readers (whom you now doubt and maybe despise a little) will tell you it sucks, and then, finally, it will be good enough for you to move on to the second chapter, but not yet *good*, just good enough, but not really that good at all; you'll cry -- a lot -- doubt every cell of your being, knowing you suck, your goal will be to write two pages every goddamn day, but you can hardly write two godforsaken paragraphs and they are, simply put, pitiful -- you write, revise, revise, write, write, revise until...you move on to chapter three and it will be the slowest chapter of your life -- ever -- but you push through to chapter four and it won't be so bad because you reward yourself with food, it's the only joy left, you eat chocolate! chips! wasabi peas! -- a lot -- constantly, really, until your sides overflow your pajama bottoms, but it's worth it because you're writing and someday, when you sell the book, you'll be able to afford those Spanx, then on and on you write, and at this point, when your finger hovers over that delete key it won't linger there quite so long as before, resignation will be your constant companion, until one morning an epiphany strikes you between the eyes and you dare to believe you're a freaking genius, and you write and it's hard but no longer excruciating, just hard as hell, but you're writing and you see an impending shape and that keeps you moving forward because if you don't move forward it's not as if you're going to fall backward, worse, you'll just stand still and that's when you'll fall off the grid completely, so you move forward and you fully see -- there! -- the path you're on, strewn as it is with enormous boulders you must surmount every few miles, you become familiar with the people accompanying you on this journey, your darling characters, and you start to love these people -- who exist only in your head and on your page, crazy you! -- more than most people in your real life (which doesn't feel quite so real anymore) and you care for them and your soul starts to inhabit their (paper) bodies but they're real (aren't they?), and you write them with your heart and head, you bleed for them, and then the end is only a chapter or two away and you begin to slow down, not wanting it to end, not wanting to lose the omnipotence of breathing life and loss and love into these people -- and what if you get the ending wrong and all of this is for naught?! -- but you won't because you always intended to go there, right there and a spot to the left, and finally you do write the end and you make yourself cry and are convinced, most days, it is probably, mostly, hopefully good enough, at least it's the best you can do at this point in your life, and you hit save draft, stand, stretch, walk away, rush back, and start again -- at the beginning.

18 comments:

writergal said...

Yikes. I know I have put myself through something similar to that but my (children's) book did not find a publisher.

So I have to go back and either start again or do major revisions.
That thought makes me sick because I doubt myself but also think I can do it and AM a good writer (but not good enough).

Alicia said...

This gives me hope! Thanks, Amy.

Tracy Hahn-Burkett said...

So here I am at the closing stage of the first draft, first novel version of this torturous dance, and I read his post and think, "It will always be like this. Thank goodness."

I guess that means either we're meant to be writers or that we're crazy. Or both.

www.UnchartedParent.com

Amy MacKinnon said...

Oh, writergal, a major revision is always in order. Good luck!

You're well on your way, Alicia. SIMPLY FROM SCRATCH (Dutton, August 2010 is a wonderful start.

Yes, Tracy, we're completely utterly insane.

Russ said...

Poetry, absolute and sheer poetry.
Thanks for this!
@russviola

Pegge said...

Thank you Amy--I'm in the suck and stuck stage, not trusting myself. Today you provided a thread inspiring me to push through. Thank you.
I look forward to your next book. Tethered still ripples in me--you have a gift, and inspire readers and writers.

Robin Antalek said...

Have you been peering in my window? Ha-- thanks-- I needed this!

Amy MacKinnon said...

Russ, you flatter me. Don't ever stop.

Pegge, I love that: suck & stuck! No kidding. Thanks for your kind words.

I admit it, Robin. Isn't kind of comforting to know it's the same hardscrabble path for each of us?

Dot said...

Amy,
Eloquently said, as always. Thank you for sharing. Did this happen while you were writing “Tethered”?

I’ve taken my 75% written memoir out of the drawer (for Manuscript Mart) and I’ve decided to scrap most of it and start over. I’m in a different place than when I wrote the first draft. However, I get stuck and doubt myself. Once I start writing and get in the groove, I remember how good it feels.

Thank you for giving writers hope and the guts to move forward.

KHC said...

Fabulous post, Amy!

Amy MacKinnon said...

Dot, I wasn't quite the mess while writing Tethered, that came during revisions. It's people like you who inspire me to keep going. Can't wait to hear how Grub Street's Muse & the Marketplace goes for you. Anyone else attending?

Thank you, Kay!!

erikarobuck said...

Boy, are you speaking to me today! I'm right there and trying to muster the courage for revisions on a second, but I'm afraid of what I'll find. Thanks for this post!

cansail said...

I'm going to bookmark this post for the next time I feel that "suck and stuck" and such. Thanks for putting down all the angst and icks we all feel in this crazy writing of fiction we all love so much.

Sustenance Scout said...

Have been there, in spades!

Amy MacKinnon said...

Thanks for reading, Erika. We're all in this together.

Cansail, I might bookmark it to so I remember that there is hope. Thanks for stopping by.

Karen,and I suppose you and I will keep going back. Happy trails.

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