Thursday, December 04, 2008

Sophomore Slump

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, Steph (Reviewer X) asked me about the Sophomore Slump. I'd been blogging about writing Book 2 (the sequel to The Forest of Hands and Teeth) and she asked if I was worried about the Sophomore Slump. I promised to answer her and then promptly never did. So here, finally, are my thoughts on writing the sophomore book.

Of course, Book 2 isn't really my second book because I'd already written two books before The Forest of Hands and Teeth. So in reality, Book 2 is the fourth book I've ever finished writing (and trust me, there are literally hundreds of thousands of words of other book bits languishing on my computers).

Even so, one of the feelings I remember most clearly after selling a two-book deal and starting on the second is wondering whether the first was just a fluke. It's not that I didn't think I could write another saleable book, it's just that if felt like suddenly there was this assumption that I'd crossed some sort of threshold and that everything I'd written before FHT was unpublishable and everything after FHT therefore *should* be publishable.

But in my mind, I'd written two unpublishable books before, who's to say I wasn't going to write another one like that? I mean, if we're talking about batting averages (which we aren't and I don't understand batting averages anyway but hang with me here) I'd written two bad books and only one good book so the odds weren't really in my favor. I clung to the idea that with every book we write we grow and so I just kept telling myself that I'd grown as a writer.

When I finished writing FHT I felt like it was the best book I'd ever written. I didn't care what anyone else thought about it, I just knew that in my mind, it was my best. That's one of the reasons I spent so much time revising it because I felt like if I couldn't sell this book that I might not ever be able to sell any book. I had this fear that I couldn't do better.

And then, I read the first pass pages of FHT. It had been months since I'd thought much about FHT or read any of it. Of course I still loved the book, but suddenly I realized that maybe I could do better. That was an increadibly liberating feeling! It let me let go of FHT and move forward and put my all into Book 2.

There were twists and turns in writing Book 2 (which I'm sure I'll talk more about later) and when I was done I honestly had absolutely no idea if it was any good or not which was a little disconcerting. I knew how I felt about all my other drafts when writing "The End" (and yes, I do write "The End" on my drafts cause it makes it feel complete to me) but with this one... no clue. I sent it to a few beta readers and my agent and thankfully they gave me hearty thumbs up so I could breathe a sigh of relief.

Especially with a sequel, I think it's hard not to want to repeat what you think worked the first time. Some readers like to read books that are all similar and some hate that. Hopefully there will be people who love my second book more than my first and there will likely be people who don't.

Above all, when I was writing Book 2 I kept reminding myself that all I had to do was write a story and everything else would (hopefully) fall into place. Once I got a draft done, other people could help pull it into shape (thank goodness for beta readers, agents and editors!). So while there's definitely a lot of pressure involved in writing the sophomore book, I also feel like there's added support: you're not writing in a vaccuum, you're writing with the help of others.

The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced that we just have to try to write the best book we can every time. We can't do any more than that. And then we hold our breaths and wait for the revision letter :) Speaking of which... time for me to dive back into revisions!

What do y'all think about the Sophomore Slump?


Anonymous said...

I would be insanely happy to have to worry about the Sophomore Slump; as I am unpublished, it will be a while (Does having a second child count at all?)

I liked this post, though, and have passed it on to my actually-published buddies.

Kimberly Derting said...

Okay, I could analyze this for hours as this is the first I've heard it give a name (the Slump). I'm in the middle of my second, also of a two-book deal, and have been feeling...something...different about this one. I think maybe I should do the cathartic go-back-and-let-the-first-one-go thing, and then maybe I can get over myself. Wow, Carrie, you've really given me something to think about here. Thanks for the great post!!! :p

Sarah MacLean said...

OMG. I'm SO freaked out about the Sophomore Slump. I totally with feels different to be writing a second book...and I think you hit it on the head. Is the first one a fluke?

I think there's no solution. You just have to push through and knock it out. It's like ripping off a band-aid. For what it's worth, I hear book three is way more fun. :)

Kimberly Derting said...

Okay, Sarah, rip off the band-aid is good. I'm just trying not to pull out all the little hairs at the same time!!

cindy said...

carrie, this couldn't have been better timed. i'm drowning in writerly angst. my sophomore novel really is my second attempt at novel writer. i know more now about how a story is supposed to be. i'm still in the midst of proofing my debut, which is shiny and pretty.

the sophomore slump has got me in it's jaws for certain. i'm doubtful and angsty. it's awful.

thanks for sharing your experience with us here. i'm glad to know you conquered it!