How to Avoid the Second-Book Slump

How to Avoid the Second-Book Slump @JanalynVoigtWriting, like marriage, is an odd mixture of passion and duty. The same writers who speak of “falling in love” with a story complain about “having to” edit it. Some marriages are easier than others, and that’s also true of books. Some pearls make it to publication with few edits, but often, by the time a novel reaches readers, its writer is sick of working on it. Given these conditions, it’s not surprising to learn that the second book in a series frequently disappoints readers. Preventing this from happening to your second book requires a look at this syndrome’s causes.

Time Frame  

A debut novel usually benefits from years of labor as its author polishes it over and over in order to land a contract. But a second novel, when contracted from a synopsis and likely written in a matter of months, doesn’t go through as strenuous a process.

Solutions:

  • Simply being aware of this as a problem is half the battle. Commit to giving your second book your all, just as you did with your first.
  • Before you submit your second manuscript, make sure you put it in front of a number of “eyes.” Accept knowledgeable critiques, remarks from beta readers, and/or paid editorial advice.

Interruptions

A writer often has to set aside writing the second book in a series to work on edits and/or promotion for the first. While necessary, interruptions stifle the creative flow. Most writers find returning to a cold manuscript difficult.

Solutions:

  • Have all books in a series written before you submit them for publication. Previously, writers held off on writing a second book until the first had sold. This made sense because publication usually went through traditional publishers. These days it’s harder to win that traditional contract but easier to become published. Take this advice if you would hire an editor and independently publish your work, should it fail to land a traditional contract.
  • Learn to write your first draft quickly so that, by the time edits for the first book hit, you’re ready for them.
  • Dedicate part of your day to writing and part to editing, with a break in between. Your brain will learn to readily switch gears.

Conflicting Emotions

During edits, writers must face, accept, and overcome their own weaknesses. The angst this causes can attach itself in the writer’s mind to the series itself. To draw a parallel from marriage: While undergoing marital counseling , it can be hard to remember first love.

Solutions:

  • Go back over your notes or read earlier entries in a writing journal to remind yourself why you love this series.
  • Reconnect with your novel’s theme, which you hopefully drew from one of your passions.  Prayer and meditation can help.

Eroded Confidence

It’s common knowledge that artistic people are their own worst critics, and that’s certainly true of writers. As a result, while dealing with edits it’s easy to lose confidence and take fewer risks with the second book, which can rob it of zeal.

Solutions:

  • Re-read any endorsements or encouraging comments you received for your first novel.
  • Remind yourself that your publisher believes in you enough to work with you.
  • Give yourself permission to dream about what could happen in your story. Don’t censor your ideas, but simply write them down. And when you go back over your brainstorming session, be wise but bold.

Creative Desire  

When the passion in a marriage fizzles, it’s tempting to look elsewhere for fulfillment. In the same way, when a writer loses that loving feeling for a project, other tempting ideas can siphon creative energy and distract attention. This has an adulterating effect on the work at hand.

Solutions:

  • Rather than ignoring new ideas, write them down (briefly) and save them for later. This keeps them percolating on the back burner until you’re ready for them.
  • Stir your passion for the work at hand by dreaming about the story, exploring the nuances of its characters, and mentally writing the next scene.

If you follow these steps, you’ll soon recapture your passion for your series.

Can you suggest some other ways to revive your writing mid-series?

How to Avoid the Second-Book Slump was first published at Live Write Breathe, Janalyn Voigt’s website for writers.

Revising Aloud

Tihamér_Margitay_Exciting_story“Reading aloud,” I’m always telling my writing students, “is the best way to revise.”

I encourage them—sometimes require them—to find read-aloud partners or start writing groups in which they take turns reading their work aloud.

“Hearing your sentences spoken lets you know whether they’re clear and natural-sounding—whether someone actually could speak them,” I explain. “And it doesn’t work to read to an empty room. You need a warm body, a listener, to complete the communication. Speaking is, after all, a collaborative act.”

Finding that read-aloud partner is easy at college, where everyone’s engaged in writing all the time. Outside the college setting, though, finding someone willing to listen can be a challenge.800px-Anker_Sonntagnachmittag_1861 People are busy. Few have time to sit still for an hour while some verbose writer drones on. That’s how they’ll imagine it when you propose reading to them. We Americans have lost—or never had—the habit of listening to people read. We had only the shallowest tradition of serial novels, released chapter by chapter as Dickens’ novels were and read to the whole family at fireside. And no comfy pubs—without blaring TVs—like the one where C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and their writer buddies hung out, drank beer, and read their work to one another. Writers who give public readings these days will tell you it’s hard to get even close friends to attend. Our lives are too busy for read-alouds.

I often recommend to writer friends that they make use of the lonely people in their lives: shut-in relatives, kid-imprisoned friends who wish they had a grownup to talk to, recently retired colleagues with time on their hands. 1280px-Anker-_Die_Andacht_des_Grossvaters_1893It sounds terrible, this “making use” of others, taking advantage of their neediness to assuage your own, but in my experience such mutual exchanges not only helped my writing but also transformed intended acts of mercy—“I should spend more time with my mother-in-law,” I was always telling myself—into pleasurable time together, which we both looked forward to. My mother-in-law not only got longed-for company but also felt needed; I got my warm body but also genuine enjoyment, without having to chide myselfHugo_Bürkner_Lesestunde (usually in vain) to, as Paul recommends, “give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9.7 NRSV). The mutual benefit, I found, guaranteed that cheerfulness, for both of us—because attentive listening and being listened to can’t help but nurture relationships.

My daughter Lulu has been on semester break from college for the past month, with a couple more weeks to go. It’s tricky having a grown daughter home that long. We’ve long since put our Christmas CDs away, but I’m still in the throes of Bing Crosby’s parental prophecy for the season: “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again!”

Luckily, Lulu’s engrossed in the final revision stages of her senior project—a hundred-Amédée_Guérard_Bibelstundepage translation of and critical introduction to an East German book—and I’m busy trying to cut 30,000 words from a novel before sending it out, so we have tasks to distract us from the inevitable mother-daughter combat. Also, since we’re in about the same place in our revisions—where what we need most is to hear them aloud and find out if they work—we’ve established a read-aloud schedule: I read her a couple short chapters during her late breakfast, and she reads me one long chapter while I trim vegetables for dinner.

I can’t say it’s the perfect exchange my mother-in-law and I had. Lulu doesn’t end my readings, as my mother-in-law always did, with “That’s the best thing you’ve ever written!” And, as a writer and teacher of writing, I give more critical feedback than Lulu really wants. But our reading fills two hours of our day with mostly pleasurable, mutually beneficial work. More importantly, the listening involved gives us both practice, at this complex juncture of our parental-filial journey, in navigating our new relationship as related but separate adults. As peers, in other words. Equals. Reciprocally heard, appreciated, and loved.

Comfort for the New Year

Photo/KarenJordan“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Cor. 1:4 NLT).

A New Year offers new opportunities and challenges. As I sense the needs around me, I often think, “What can I do to help those in need?”

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to respond. In fact, some people may say,”the devil is in the detail,” inferring that there’s some mysterious secret hidden in the details. That term comes from the original phrase “God is in the detail,” which reminds us that the details are always important.

Discovering the mysterious details of how to help others requires wisdom. And God promises to guide us in this discovery process. But He wants us to ask for HIS help first.  “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you … ” (Jms. 1:5 NLT).

Seek God first. The Lord promises to provide the guidance we need throughout our lives. Psalm 32:8 says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you” (NLT).

God often uses my experiences—good and bad—when I seek Him for direction in helping others. At times, He prompts me to share small things—like prayers, concerns, and a listening ear.

When my friend, Kathy, struggled with vertigo following her cancer treatments, I felt helpless to help her since she lived in another state. And I knew the misery of vertigo. When Kathy mentioned that she could not even read her Bible, I was able to read scriptures to her by phone.

Later, Kathy told me, “Your calls helped me survive my cancer treatments.”

Listen. In Matthew 11:15, Jesus asks His disciples, “Are you listening to me? Really listening?” (MSG).

As we seek God and ask questions, it’s important to listen for the answers. Sometimes instead of listening to God, I’m tempted to offer unsolicited advice to friends and family.

Have you ever received a gift that you didn’t want or need? Awkward! Our unsolicited gifts might actually offend instead of blessing others. Perhaps they need godly advice, not just a hasty opinion or thoughtless response.

Ask questions. I also ask questions when I’m trying to discern how to encourage others. What matters most to them? How can I discern how to help? What helped me when I faced a similar problem? What do I wish someone else had offered me when I faced my last crisis?

John 14:26 promises, “… the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (NIV).

Tell the stories that matter most. As a Christian writer, I never want to lose sight of the needs of my audience. Author Anne Lamott offers this advice: “Write the books you really wished were out there in the world.”

During a crisis, I look for resources to help me find solutions for my current needs. Encouraging words heal my soul when I’m desperate for answers. And I’m grateful for the writers who have poured their lives into helpful devotionals and books for those troubling days.

So, “… even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you” (Phil. 2:17 NIV).

As you plan your projects for the New Year, consider offering some words that could help meet the needs of others.

“… Words are powerful; take them seriously” (Matt. 12:36 MSG).

Can you think of a book that helped you through a crisis?

Tips for Managing Time as a Writer

You’ve heard the age-old story: Creative individual decides to write a book. They sit down with paper and pen or keyboard, and painstakingly write that heart story. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes it takes years. When talking with their friends, you often hear them say, “Something came up. It isn’t quite right yet. I just haven’t had the time.”

It’s pretty clear that time is precious. In fact, outside of my loved ones, my time is my most treasured possession. Since signing my first contract in January 2013, I have learned an important writing tip, probably the most important tip.

There is NEVER time, unless you choose to make it.

In fact, I’ve noticed one common trait among the published: They make time to finish. Once you sign that dotted line and make a commitment, “I didn’t have time” doesn’t fly with the publisher. Neither does “it’s just not ready yet.” You better make time and make it ready fast or risk losing your credibility.

After signing that contract, time to market becomes important. And time to edit. And time to promote. And time to interact with readers. Lots of time. So it’s important to figure out how to manage it.

My friends hear me say that I’m overwhelmed more than anything else. But I’m learning how to carve out time, discipline myself to finish, and not miss out on the world around me. We aren’t only writers. We are marketers, publicists, graphic designers, speakers, and more. So I’ve learned a few tricks to maximize my time in every area of this writing journey.

Kariss Lynch - timeCreate margin.

I am a night owl and can write and create relevant marketing content easier when my checklist for the day is accomplished. It clears my mind to be creative. Determine your best time of day to write or create, and maximize those short windows.

Set a timer.

Write every day. Set the timer on your phone for an hour, then put your phone on silent and put it on the other side of the room. Clear your mind and write. I found when I did this, I could easily write close to two thousand words if not more in an hour! When the timer goes off, I feel accomplished, satisfied, and ready to write even more.

Carve out marketing time for social media.

I work full time as a writer for my company, so in the middle of the day I am tired of writing. I’ve started taking thirty minutes of my lunch break or fifteen minutes in the morning or afternoon to create social media graphics that I then pre-schedule so I don’t have to think about them. Think about content that is relevant to your brand, then have fun with those designs.

Strategize for online interaction.

The internet is a wonderful tool, but managing our online interaction can eat our time if not handled correctly. Block out thirty minutes every few days to catch up on emails. Take a few minutes to respond to every person who comments on social media (within reason of course). Know your brand, what you are passionate about, and have character and author interviews on hand for guest blog posts. Don’t overthink. Just do.

Know your audience and limits for speaking engagements.

My favorite interviews and speaking engagements are via Skype since it helps me conserve my time, but I’ve also enjoyed those in person speaking engagements with small groups or crowds. Determine your price (if you have one), the size of the group you are willing to speak for, if it is wise to travel or Skype in (this is great for book clubs and classes that may not be close). Bottom line, know your options and then plan accordingly. Don’t forget you still need to write and market and live life, so carefully plan the weekends you will be gone.

Managing time is as much mental as it is physical. At the end of the day, be satisfied with what you accomplished and leave the rest for tomorrow. What tips have you found effective in managing your time?

What Matters Most During the Holidays?

During the holidays, my writing projects, ideas, and dreams don’t always fit into my everyday life. So, I’m forced to decide what matters most.

Photo/KarenJordan

As I prepared to lead a session on holiday traditions for a “Countdown to Christmas” workshop a few weeks ago, I asked myself, What holiday traditions mean the most to me?

I found myself resisting the idea to plan for Christmas before Thanksgiving. I knew I didn’t have the time and energy to accomplish everything that I wanted to do, much less the things that others expected of me. And the burden of planning holiday events and activities overwhelmed me. I knew I had to be honest with myself about my expectations.

Traditions. As I listed my family’s holiday traditions, I decided to find a new way to prioritize them. I chose three basic categories to help me sort through the chaos. I posed three questions.

  1. Which traditions are treasured most by my family? I brainstormed about our holiday activities, noting some old and new favorites—recipes, gifts, parties, and other family activities.
  2. Which traditions are the most practical for my family? I listed the most difficult traditions to maintain, since our children live in different cities with children of their own now—and since climbing on the roof and hanging Christmas lights are no longer options for me.
  3. Which traditions help me to communicate the “real” meaning of the holidays to those who matter most to me? As I examined my traditions, I wanted to be sure to include those that best expressed my faith. As a writer, I know the importance of showing, not just telling. So I scratched off some things that might distract us from the main “reason for the season.”

Realization. This process helped me to begin planning for my holiday celebration and relieved a bit of my holiday stress. How?

  1. Expectations. It helped me release my expectations of myself and of others. I won’t be avoiding certain family members who might not have the same values and beliefs.
  2. Stress. It enabled me to avoid unneeded expenses and the exhaustion of time-wasting commitments.
  3. Focus. I refocused on what matters most and the “real” meaning of the holiday and not on the frustrating and unnecessary aspects of the season.
  4. Pattern. It established a new pattern for approaching my life and work. Instead of thinking that I have to do everything that might be expected of me, I can choose a different response.

Questions. Now, I ask myself three questions before accepting any new challenge.

  1. Passion. Am I really passionate about this?
  2. Practical. Do I have the skills, talent, or knowledge to do this? If not, do I have the time or resources to pursue it?
  3. Purpose. Does it meet an important need?

If not, I’m saying, “NO!”

Celebration. I’m granting myself permission to let go, enjoy life, and celebrate. And I believe this holiday season and the upcoming year will be the best ever.

How do you determine what matters most to you and your family?

I Am A Writer

My brother got married a couple of months ago, and our family forever changed. I gained a new sister, a new twist on life, AND a bigger family. My dad performed the ceremony and I sat with him and my brother two nights before the wedding around our kitchen table listening to them go over the vows – vows to honor and cherish and grow old.

Vows carry a certain kind of weight. In the past few weeks, I’ve found it necessary to make a different kind of vow. Not a vow to another person, a job, task, or event. I am making a vow to myself.

Kariss - Shaken in storesI am a writer. Period. End of any wondering or questions. I have all the dreams and insecurities that come with the itch of fingers to grab a pen and hit the paper.

I am a writer, and within a week of beginning work with my editor on Shaken, I emailed my mentor and told her I thought I needed to start the whole book over. I felt like I need to somehow make it better. I did that with my second book, Shadowed, too. Now my goal is to make each book better than the last.

I am a writer. We can be our own worst enemies. We can also be our own greatest advocates because NO ONE can make me finish the job but myself.

I am a writer, and I type THE END for my own benefit. It will never be perfect. But it can be something I am proud of once I push past the insecurities and just finish.

I am a writer, and I notice people in a different way. This gives me the unique desire to figure out how God wired them, to value their quirks and struggles, and to cheer them on in their successes. I know the best kind of character is one who reflects what God has already created – people. So I’ve learned to value each person individually and love his or her uniqueness.

I am a writer. I can be introverted or extroverted, depending on the situation. I can be equally emotional and analytical, which can sometimes be confusing.

I am a writer. I know the power of words, the pain they can wield or the healing they can bring.

I am a writer. I can stand back and observe a scene, using words to paint a whimsical picture or one cloaked in shadows.

I am a writer, and from what I’ve heard, we subsist on coffee and chocolate. Of course, I can’t personally verify this.

Kariss - Courage quoteI am a writer, and with that comes the necessity to be uniquely myself while God continues to mold me in the process. But when I fail to be who God made me to be, I miss out on being part of the story He is weaving in and through me. When the insecurities or the pride creep in, I vow to fight and write, because no one can write a story exactly like I can.

No one can reach my audience quite like I can.

No one can speak or create or brainstorm or think quite like I can.

I am a writer, but I am only one part of a whole community. Together, we reach a wide audience. Individually, we touch specific hearts, those that are, for one reason or another, particularly attracted to the stories placed on our hearts. When I fail to be unapologetically myself, my readers and those in my life miss out. I miss out.

So this is my writer’s vow. I vow to be unapologetically myself, to be the person, the writer, that God made me to be. I vow to grow in this craft, knowing I will fail and knowing I will succeed. I am a writer, and I want to be part of this beautiful story God is writing with my life, not just an unwilling participant.

What lessons have you learned as you grow to be the best writer YOU can be?

Miles to Go and Promises to Keep

Photo/KarenJordan

“But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep …” (Robert Frost).

Many years ago, I sensed the Lord’s direction to begin writing a very personal story from my family’s life. So I began to record my thoughts even while we were still embroiled in the middle of the crisis.

Roadblocks. Yet every time I would attempt to complete a book proposal for this particular project, something thwarted my efforts.

I don’t just mean a little bump in the road. I’m referring to situations that seemed impossible to get through—like my mother’s fatal illness, my daughter’s three orthopedic surgeries and difficult pregnancies, my daughter-in-law’s seven miscarriages and two miraculous births, and my father-in-law’s lengthy terminal illness.

And that’s not counting all the roadblocks in my journey to publication. Oh, my! Where do I begin with that one?

Red flags. So as I approached this long-drawn-out project again—this time working on it with my daughter Tara—red flags waved all around me. Again, it looked hopeless. And to be honest, when I returned home from our last brainstorming session, discouragement covered me like a heavy cloak. And my emotions tempted me to return this story to my “What was I thinking?” pile once again.

Reminders. Then, I remembered my “40-day Challenge: Telling the Stories That Matter Most.”

I also began a study the life of Moses. And I thought my mission looked impossible!

Moses faced the unimaginable tasks of his calling with great fear. He knew he didn’t have the strength or the abilities that he would need to complete the undertakings God had asked of him. He was aware of his weaknesses and limitations; yet, he wanted to embrace God’s promises. But at each step, he faced his own inabilities in light of God’s plans.

As I study more about Moses, I’m reminded once again of God’s steadfast commitment to keep His promises. Even my unbelief, fear, and doubt will not divert God’s plans. I may get sidetracked and distracted, but God remains faithful to His Word.

God also promises to provide all I need to complete the work that He began in me.

“There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in (me) would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish …” (Phil. 1:6 MSG).

Reflection. I’m grateful that God continues to invite me to join Him in His work. And I don’t sense that He has given up on me like I’ve often done with Him. He will forgive my complaining about my circumstances and blaming others for my failures.

So I’m holding on to God’s promises now, even as I write this confession of faith. And I pray if you are struggling with a similar issue, you will revisit His promises to you, too.

Are you facing an impossible project now? What lessons are you learning in the process?