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Starting a Second Novel: the Benefit of Hindsight

This morning I started thinking about which book to write next, which means I’m closing in on the end of my current one, at last. Will I approach the next one differently? You bet.

Writing my first novel has been a mammoth learning experience. At least 70% of the effort involved has been a question of learning craft, learning about the publishing industry, building an online platform. There’s a reason why most first novels take five years to write. I had to restart it so many times I feel as though I’ve written four novels, not one. But there’s also good news.

A method has emerged organically, by trial and error over the last five years, which will help me complete future books more fluently and efficiently.

The First Five Pages

There’s nothing more stressful than taking a cold, hard look at the first five pages of your manuscript only to realize they’re unlikely to compete favorably against the other submissions out there.

You’ve learned so much from classes and workshops. Your work reads fluently, your imagery links to theme, you’re in love with your characters, but you just know those first five pages could be stronger. And you also know that the first five pages of your manuscript can make or break you. What do you do?

I Love My Agent!

[Photo: from left to right—Debby Garfinkle, agent Laura Rennert, Jay Asher]

Today’s post is a short update on the Writer Beware Blogs! mention of me by Alyx Dellamonica, one of my teachers at the UCLA Writers Program. The post stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy by suggesting that current market advice to create an online presence in advance of publication could have its drawbacks, or even be a negative thing if done too soon.

As it’s sponsored by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and Mystery Writers of America, the blog has over 12,000 followers and subscribers. Within hours, every writer reluctant to bow to the pressure to market themselves, or whose efforts had not been successful, spoke up against it and I was beginning to feel as exposed and vulnerable as a lost puppy caught in the middle of a multi-lane highway.

You can probably imagine how relieved I was when my agent (Laura Rennert, Andrea Brown Literary Agency), left this comment in response to the naysayers:

Favorite Fantasy Pets, Familiars and Animal Companions

In a genre that is as much about wish-fulfillment as it is a reaction to the Scientific Revolution that denied us mystique and magic in favor of equations and mechanics, it is hardly surprising that fantasy is home to some of the most appealing and awe inspiring animal companions in literature.

ERAGON by Christopher Paolini

While fantasy animals, familiars and companions are often little more than window dressing, thankfully there are many cases where animals play an integral part in the plot or theme of the book, as in ERAGON by Christopher Paolini, TEMERAIRE by Naomi Novik and Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS.

Hester, from HIS DARK MATERIALS by Philip Pullman

The animals in HARRY POTTER don’t, for the most part, directly impact the plot, but they are given personalities that feel right for the young witches and wizards they accompany.

What’s In Your To-Be-Read Pile?

I’m always shocked by how few writers actually read these days. I meet writers all the time who are eager to talk about what they’re writing, and keen to spend hard-earned dollars on writing classes, workshops and conferences they hope will advance their development as writers; but when I ask them what they’re reading they often look blank, then vaguely uncomfortable.

“I have so little time,” they say, “what with writing, my family, my work, and all that blogging and social media stuff we’re expected to do. I do most of my reading online these days.”

What a shame.

It’s not that I don’t understand that there aren’t enough hours in the day for everything we’re expected to do as writers. It’s that I don’t understand how anything but work and family commitments can be a higher priority than reading. I would even put reading ahead of writing.