So my posting has dropped off completely over this holiday period but I am now coming up for air, gasping for breath after having been plunged headfirst into booze and food for a solid week. My 29th birthday was last Thursday (22nd) and I have not written a word since then. Which is probably not the best way to start off my 30th year on this planet, however, drop in productivity is one of the many downsides to a birthday so close to Christmas.
Turning 29 has felt surprisingly normal. Perhaps it's because I went through a bit of existensial crisis when I was 27 so I've gotten it out of the way for awhile. I am proud of having published a novel by this point in my life, but it feels so far away already and changed so little in my actual day to day existence that sometimes I forget that it ever happened.
I have managed to squeeze in some research on SNS over the holiday and am actually surprised by just how similar the experience is for so many writers.
Don DeLillo explains the 'first novel writing itself' feeling with his usual grace and brevity...
"A first novel comes to the writer as a gift and he doesn't necessarily know how he wrote it. It's the second novel that teaches him how to write."
This makes me feel better about the fact that writing the second one feels like it's actually physically harder than the first. Like I never wrote one before. Like I have no idea what I'm doing.
Jefferey Eugenides (a poster child for second novel syndrome) explains the panic...
"No one is waiting for you to write your first book. No one cares if you finish it. But after your first, if it goes well, everyone seems to be waiting. You're suddenly considered to be a professional writer, a fiction machine, but you know very well that you're just getting going. You go from having nothing to lose to having everything to lose, and that's what creates the panic."
It's like you're inside my head, Jeff. It's hard to explain to people the pressure that builds up after you've done one. And it's not even necessarily from an agent or editor, but from your friends and family. How it feels like every time they ask you 'are you writing?', 'what are you writing?', 'how's the writing going?' what you hear is 'well, you've done the hard part now, where's the next one?', 'you're a writer now, so why aren't you writing? Isn't that what you do?'
And of course that's ridiculous. They ask you those things because they're genuinely interested in what you're doing, and the process. Ah, but the panic...the panic.
And last, but certainly not least, my favorite SNS quote from one of my (and everyone's) favorite people, Stephen Fry.
"The problem with a second novel is that it takes almost no time to write compared with a first novel. ... If I write my first novel in a month at the age of 23, and my second novel takes me two years, which have I written more quickly? The second of course. ...The first took 23 years, and contains all the experience, pain, stored-up artistry, anger, love, hope, comic invention and despair of that lifetime. The second is an act of professional writing. That is why it is so much more difficult."
Bingo, Steve. My first novel, is SUCH a first novel. Semi-autobiographical, short, first person, present tense, and all the other cliched first novel-y type things. Everything I've ever written since I was twelve. Every scrap of diary-esque prose, every angsty teen poem, every attempted short story, all somehow, in some way, found it's way into that first book. Each was a stepping stone, a brick in the wall of the right voice, theme, structure, to that first book. Now that that project is completed, it feels like I have to start the next one empty...without any reserves of words or thoughts or feelings.
It's why I am trying to keep a notebook while I write it. Why I am trying out this blog to see if any writing is all writing.
Anyway...at the very least, it's nice to know I am not alone, that far greater minds than mine have struggled just as hard with novel number two.
a snippet of actual writing...I promise.