I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Monday, June 6, 2011

Painting Through Second Book Syndrome

My house, built in 1926, is a constant work-in-progress. When we moved in 15 years ago, the house was outdated with orange ceilings--no joke--and 70s decor, but had character and showed promise. Slowly, we’ve been working at making changes. Unfortunately the money tree in the backyard withered and died, so our changes are done on a budget.

My kitchen…sigh…is in need of a wrecking ball. In the meantime, paint has been my best friend. So since Memorial weekend I’ve been listening to The Help on audiobook and painting my kitchen. And I have to say, I’m loving it—both The Help and my newly painted blue and white kitchen. Definitely won’t be booked on the Better Homes & Gardens tour, but it’s definitely in keeping with my style—a cross between shabby chic and homey.

So what does repainting my kitchen have to do with writing? Well, in a clich├ęd way, you could compare it to writing the rough draft that lays the foundation for the final polish.

For me, painting helped me to escape my fear of writing my second book. I’m sure you’ll remember my joy at the beginning of the year when I sold my first book. Overjoyed. Since then, I’ve been editing my second book.

A few weeks ago, I sent an email to Beth Vogt telling her how I felt frozen and couldn’t write for fear of failing. After all, my editor loved my first book. I had very few revisions. Golden, right?

Photo credit: jbournay
When my friend got married on the beach, Hubby and I were her witnesses. We spent the afternoon at the beach that had huge waves. I turned to say something to Hubby and got knocked down when a wave washed over me. I tried to stand but couldn’t get my footing. The second my head popped above water, another wave pushed me down. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t breathe. A panicked feeling squeezed my chest. I truly thought I was going to die. Hubby saved me.

Writing the last 4 chapters of my second book came with that same pushed under the water with wave after wave hitting me and knocking me down feeling. Beth informed me that overwhelming feeling sounded like second book syndrome.

Romans 15:13 reminds us, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Painting and listening to a wonderful book helped me to take a break from banging my head against the keyboard. Prayer and distance from my manuscript pushed away those waves that overwhelmed me. Oh, and losing my Internet for over 24 hours helped too. I started writing during naptime and moved past the chapter that held my muse captive. I knew God did not allow me to have one contract and set me up to fail for the second book. He gave me peace as I trusted in Him.

Your turn: Have you dealt with second book syndrome recently? How did you push through it? If you haven't dealt with second book syndrome, have you been overwhelmed by another aspect of writing? How did you handle it? What takeaway value did you receive? 

Lisa Jordan

Congrats to Deborah H. Bateman for winning a copy of Masquerade Marriage!


  1. I can empathize, Lisa. I've been working my way through SBS, too. I found the best solution is simply this: write. Nothing else worked. When I forged ahead despite the Sophomore Book Paralysis, as our awesome agent calls it, I began to feel the grip of fear easing. That and prayer worked. Oh, and an unending supply of sweet tea. =)

  2. Lovely post Lisa. I'm not on my second book contract or even my first. I have wrote a book and it is still in a revising process. However, over the years I have wrote several small pieces; blog posts, devotionals, poems, letters, and short stories. Most of those have RARELY been shared, due to fear. God has been pulling me out of that lately and I've started writing for www.wivesoffaith.org It is a stepping stone for me and so far they've chosen 3 of my pieces and asked me to keep writing. So I started going through all my past writings and with a little refreshing, editing, and fine-tuning I believe they fit well with Wives of Faith. I am thankful that I finally have the faith to share and these pieces of writing are no longer collecting dust. It is not that dreamed of book contract, but it is a stepping block I need for it is teaching me to trust. Oh and I've a lot of Sweet Tea!!! :)

  3. Chris Potash6/6/11, 7:59 AM

    Thank you for sharing! I am only starting on a first book, but I think writing your second book may be something like having more than one child. Your first is perfect in every way and you worry that you won't love another human as much as you love your firstborn. And then your second is born and your heart overflows. And while the second is different from the first, it is still just as wonderful.

    The syndrome I have to worry about is the "taking on another accent syndrome" after I listen to an audiobook with a southern or english accent. I drove my family crazy while I was listening to The Help! :-)

  4. The way you described the wave knocking you over and not being able to get your feet under you... such a familiar feeling when I've written myself into a corner. And you're so right about getting a little distance from the story. Great post, Lisa.

    And I've got to get The Help! Don't suppose it'll give me a Southern accent, do you?

  5. Keli, I'm so glad I'm not alone in this fear. And you're right--writing helps push you through. I don't drink sweet tea, but I love iced green tea and water. Also, I've been doing final edits on my first novel. Having some distance from the story, I've realized I can write and can't allow fear to freeze me. I'm thankful for a supportive God who fills me with peace and joy and supportive friends to help me stay encouraged.

  6. Tonya, congratulations on being selected to write for Wives of Faith. That's fantastic! I visited the site, but will explore it when I have more time. I'm a former military wife, so I'm sure I will be able to relate to the posts.

    Fear is not of God. When we trust in Him, He will give us the courage we need to take baby steps down the path He has laid before us. Congrats for taking those first steps!

  7. Chris, you are so right!! when I was pregnant with my second child, my biggest fear was not being able to love him as much as I loved our first son. What I learned is our hearts have this uncanny ability to expand to love each child.

    I LOVE listening to audiobooks. The different accents made the story come to life for me. I could do a full blog post on The Help alone. I don't think I've picked up any accents. My family hasn't commented on it. My son picks up accents quickly.

  8. Pat, when I had nightmares and a physical ache in my chest, I knew I needed some distance from my story. I gave myself permission to stop obsessing over it and gradually, I was able to think through the problem. A complete rewrite of the scene was needed in order to move forward. The scene needs polished, but I'm so much happier with it.

    I'm sure you'll be fine in the southern accent department. ;)

  9. Yes, Lisa, I've experienced SBS. Why do you think I understood what you were dealing with?
    It helped me to know that a) I'm not the first person to feel this way and b) I'll get over it--it's not an option. After all, I do have an editor waiting for this second book.
    And it helps to remind myself that the first draft can be--and usually is--lousy. That's what rewrites are for.

  10. Oooh, I love this post, Lisa! I am absolutely, 100% battling second book syndrome...part of it is time, but more than that, I think it's fear that I'm simply incapable of pulling it off a second time. I. Am. Intimidated. There, I said it. I'm also trying to push myself further storywise with this book, so I'm sure that's part of the intimidation-problem, too.

    But your post is encouraging...I think you're right: prayer and distance are two of the best solutions! Also, umm...maybe I should cancel my Internet. :)

    Lastly, I've totally had the experience of being knocked over by a wave. In my case it was the Mediterranean...and it was cold...and awesome. And all we'd meant to do was go wading...:)

  11. YES! It wasn't my second actual book, but it is the first book I've written after being a contracted author and for whatever reason, I'm struggling more with this book than any other I've written. I'm sure there's some fear in there.

    My way of dealing has been to plow through. The fear is there, but keep on truckin' :)

  12. Lisa, what an encouraging post! I've been knocked over again and again by a set of big waves, and it can lead to a feeling of being totally out of control and just trying to grab the next breath, but I survived and so did you! :)

    I haven't dealt with SBS yet. So glad you had Beth to help with perspective and encouragement. We need friends in this journey. I've had a busy spring and trying to get back to my first book has been challenging. A part of me is scared that the new and revised story (since DT) won't flow from me like the previous drafts did. Working through SMW's Book Buddy and writing a long synopsis is helping. Now, to keep writing and keep myself well stocked with good coffee...Your post gives me the courage to keep pressing forward, rather than giving in to fear. Thanks!

  13. Great post, Lisa! I hope I'll need to worry about SBS someday.

  14. Beth, you're so right. Do you ever get tired of hearing that?? :) Honestly I hadn't heard of Second Book Syndrome until you mentioned it. Glad to know I wasn't the only author to deal with this. But I got through it!

  15. Melissa, I totally get that intimidated feeling. You can power through it. I know lack of time can be frustrating. I hated not having internet. I felt so out of touch. Yes, I'm dependent on my internet. Maybe I need a support group.

  16. Katie, in my case, I think my fear was not being able to live up to expectations. My first book sold and was well-received by my editor. Will I be able to pull it off a second time? Well, we'll see. :) You can do it. I have faith in you. :)

  17. Jeanne, you can do it, friend. Just take baby steps and look at it one piece at a time. The whole picture can be somewhat overwhelming. As Beth said, the rough draft is allowed to be lousy. You can polish during the revision phase. Let the story flow and worry about fixing it later.

  18. Very interesting, Lisa. I'm glad you're pushing through it to a new level!

    I have a different take on it because my "second book" is actually the first novel I ever wrote. This has been absolute murder. When people said "Oh, it's OK, second books are always hard," I want to scream. "NO!" I wanted to say. "It's not hard because it's my second book. It's hard because it was my first!" Ugh. What I learned: if you ever have to revise an old manuscript that you know is not where it needs to be, hire a pro editor long before you turn it in to your real editor. You just won't be able to get the distance on it if you wrote it years ago.

  19. Congrats on your perseverance, Lisa. And thanks for sharing your perspective.

    I think, after reading all the comments, if I'm blessed with the problem, I'll just pretend its my third book. ;)