I’m not interested in painting; I’m not interested in making a picture. Then what the hell am I interested in? I must be interested in this process.

—Philip Guston

As an editor and an agent I know all about the Book #2 Blues, aka Second Book Syndrome. I’ve helped countless writers and clients through the minefield that is book two—and now I find myself on that perilous journey myself.

Why is book #2 so hard?

It’s hard because you had all the time in the world to write the first book, and no one cared if you finished that first book. Really, no one but you. No one cared if it were any good either. Really, no one but you.

But people are waiting for book two: your agent, your editor, your publisher, your readers. And they expect it to be even better than book one…that you wrote by the seat of your pants, full of energy and enthusiasm and a very helpful dose of cluelessness.

Because ignorance really is bliss.

The writing process is like painting

As I’ve been working my way through the second novel in my mystery series, I’m surprised by how much harder it’s been to write than the first one. A challenge. A slog. A march into hell.

Pettingill House, now owned by Paula MunierThen we moved into a big Colonial house built in 1760 by David Pettingill, who served as a Lieutenant during the American Revolution and fought in the Battle of Bennington.

This historic old pile is great, but it needs work. And lots of painting.

Painting is fun. We started in the kitchen, where I could not wait to cover the garish green walls, cabinetry, and trim with luxurious cream-colored paint called “Apricot Haze.” (But seriously, folks, it’s cream.)

I did my prep work: dusted the woodwork, moved the furniture and appliances, gathered my tools, taped off the window panes so I stayed in the lines. Getting ready for the creative work to begin.

Like dusting off my notes for Book #2, moving around possible scenes, gathering research, taping off the plot points so I stayed in the lines of my story structure.

And I felt better, armed for battle, like Pettingill with his musket.

Dip in the pen, and…brush stroke!

I slapped on the first brush of paint on the wall: Euphoria! The color was wonderful, fresh and new and everything the empty canvas of that ugly green wall was not—the right color to bring this kitchen to life.

Much like the opening scene of my second novel, which I’d dreamed in my head. The scene was wonderful, fresh and new and everything that empty page was not—the right opening to bring my story to life.

I finished applying the first layer of paint with a (premature) sense of satisfaction. Given the countless coats of God-awful putrid green oil paint I was painting over. When I stepped back to look, I was dismayed. This was a mess. This would take countless coats to look even presentable. And this was just the first wall in a room with four walls.

In short, I had a long way to go.

There was nothing to do but turn up the Beatles playlist and keep on painting. Let go and sing Paperback Writer through each coat.

Like the way I write: Get a new scene on paper, moving forward in the story. Then circling back, revising, and moving forward again.

All the way to the end. Letting go and singing Paperback Writer through each scene. In a book with dozens of scenes.

Not finished yet….

Just when you think you’re finished, you remove all that tape. And you see the places where the paint seeped through, the places where the brush strokes are too noticeable, the places where the hideous green still casts its faint chartreuse shadow. The places you’ll have to fix. The places I’ll have to fix.

Much like the places I’ll have to fix in my manuscript before I send it off—the awkward phrasing, the lazy metaphors and similes, the overwriting.

It’s the process, stupid

And as I continue to paint and write, paint and write, paint and write my summer away, I remind myself that writing, like painting, is a process. And that it’s supposed to be fun.

Maybe it’s time for a little Stephen Sondheim, Finishing the Hat, now, creating something out of nothing.


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