When you first begin writing, you do it for various reasons… Maybe it’s an escape. Maybe it’s for entertainment. Maybe it’s because if you didn’t you would just die.
Whatever the reason, it gets your butt into a chair and your fingers onto a keyboard. As you BICHOK away, you may or may not finish what you start…but ultimately it doesn’t matter because at this point you are writing mostly for YOU.
But then, at some point, you decide you want to write to get PUBLISHED. Suddenly, your entire approach to writing changes–as it should!
You learn about writing. You build your tool-box of characterization, plotting, scene-construction, outlining, voice, and more…
Then (or more likely at the same time) you start to learn about the PUBLISHING INDUSTRY. You accept that it’s not going to be easy, but by golly you won’t give up!
And maybe, if you’re obsessive (read: ME) you spend every hour researching agents, refining your query letter, joining another society/crit group/workshop–all meant to help you jump that first hurdle in publication: AQUIRING AN AGENT.
And then…one day–maybe one year down the road or twenty–you are retrieved from the slush. Your MS is good enough, the agent makes an offer, and…
BAM! You have an agent! Now what…?
Oh, there’s still more for your obsessive nature to dwell on. First, you’ll probably go through revisions with your Shiny New Agent, and then, lo and behold, you GO ON SUBMISSIONS. To editors! It’s out of your hands now, but that doesn’t mean you won’t check your email with psychotic determination. That you won’t spend every waking hour daydreaming about that second giant hurdle in publication: SELLING YOUR NOVEL.
And then…one day–maybe one year down the road or twenty–your novel does catch the eye of an editor. Your MS is good enough, the editor makes an offer, your agent negotiates the deal, and…
BAM! Your book has sold. Now what…?
And here, my friends, is where–if you’re really like me–you may suddenly have to revaluate everything. Technically, by all your friends and family, you’ve MADE IT.
Selling your novel was your dream! You’ve spent sooooooooo long and spent soooooooo much energy trying to reach this point, you never really thought beyond.
Um, well, if you wish to make this your LIFE (as must of us certainly do), then you’re going to have to write another book. And another book after that and another after that…and multiply that by infinity.
But even harder, you have to write good books. And that’s really freaking scary.
To quote my agent,
Second Book Jitters ares viewed as…cliche almost? Like it’s become such a normal discussion topic that many people don’t acknowledge it anymore. But that term has its roots, and in my opinion, is always worth bringing up.
The Second Book Jitters are undoubtedly real, and I think they come from the sudden realization that all that energy you’ve focused into steps 1 (Agent Acquisition) and 2 (Selling the Novel) has now got to go somewhere else: a good second book that readers will enjoy.
But truly, I think “second book jitters” could just as easily be renamed “First Book Jitters” or “Eighty-seventh Book Jitters” or how about just BOOK JITTERS!
Why? Because readers are notoriously hard to please, yet when we seek to be published, we take a vow to write for our readers.
And now we get to a point where you have to rediscover the “spark”. You have to get back to the whole reason you started writing in the first place:
That’s right. Writing started with YOU, and now you’ve got to bring it back to YOU.
First drafts are for you. Revisions are for readers.
Yes, you may write for publication and for your readers, but when you BICHOKing out your first draft, you’re writing COMPLETELY FOR YOU. You must tap into whatever it is that compels you to write, and you have to use it to get that first draft out!
I write because I have a feeling to share. Just like a piece of music moves me, a story will burn in my heart until I have to tell it. And finding those feelings, nurturing those stories, setting aside commercial-concerns and self-doubt for a few months while I hammer out a first draft–all of it is CRITICAL for me to write a novel.
And it took me a few months of chasing my tail to finally sort all that out…
But now I know what motivates me to write.
I know that, ultimately, writing is my career, and that means staying in touch with MYSELF.
I know I have to focus more of my time on WRITING than on All The Other Crud (social networking, obsessing over foreign rights, dreaming of selling future books I haven’t even written yet!).
Ah, now if only I had stayed in touch with myself throughout the querying/subbing process… I’d have saved a lot of time (and some crippling self-doubt) later on!
MORAL OF THE STORY: No matter where you are in the journey to (or on) publication, don’t lose sight of why you write. Writing is for you; editing is for your readers.
So why do you write?
What is about storytelling that attracted you in the first place?
Susan Dennard is a writer, reader, lover of animals, and eater of cookies. She is repped by Sara Kendall of NCLit, and her debut, SOMETHING STRANGE AND DEADLY, will be available from Harper Children’s in 2012. You can learn more about her on her blog or twitter.