Many brave souls are in the thick of National Novel Writing Month. A yearly competition where people write a 50,000 word rough draft of a novel. I’ve participated seven times and I’m in the middle of novelizing right now.
For many this will be their first attempt at writing anything of that length. Maybe their first shot at writing a book they’ve dreamed about for years. I wrote my first full-length book in 2011 and remember the agony of trying to get that sucker done. I was sure finishing one book would be the highlight of my life. It was so hard and thought: who would want to go through that again?
Fast forward eight years. I’ve written seventeen fiction and nonfiction titles and I’ve changed my tune. Not to mention all the manuscripts dead on my hard drive. I’ve shifted my thinking about writing not because I’ve discovered a secret formula for cranking out books in a week or less.
Not because I’m anything special. Not because I have the best ideas in the universe. I’ve changed how I approach writing books because I have more than one book in me. More to say.
I bet you do too.
So why not be thinking about the next one when you’re writing this one? Crazy, right?
Steven Pressfield wrote about considering book two right in the middle of book one. I love this advice on many levels. It’s about building a portfolio of work. A lifetime of work.
“Start thinking about Book #2.
Think of yourself with a shelf like Stephen King’s.
I know when we’re up to our eyeballs in alligators it’s hard to start planning ahead to draining the next swamp.
But athletes think in terms of careers, as do dancers and filmmakers and restaurauteurs and entrepreneurs.
You and I need to too.
Can you picture a shelf of books? Your books.
Ten of ’em.
Can you imagine not just one title but an actual body of work?”
Forward Thinking Required
Most writers and creators don’t think of their art in the long term. No one wants to just work a job. They want something that fits their gifts and talents and opportunities for the long haul, a career. Something they can get better at, grow into, and one day thrive.
Why not shift your writing from a hobby and something you poke at once in a while? Why not consider having shelves of books?
Too many writers spend way too much time on the first book. Thinking it’s a special flower. The next Great American Novel or the Best Thing Since Sliced Bread.
I teach my students to always be thinking about the long term and the next book. Everyone has more than one book in them.
Benefits of Futuristic Thinking
The benefits of this way of thinking are immense:
When you think about a shelf full of books, you never put pressure on one book to succeed.
When you think about the second, third, or fourth books it frees you to experiment. Try different voices and ideas and angles. Never worrying if it doesn’t work. Write another.
When you think about a shelf of books and multiple titles with your name on them you don’t become a one-trick pony.
I’ve danced between fiction and nonfiction all because I experimented and thought about the future not just the moment. Not just the thing I’m making now.
Pressfield gives more practical advice on writing book two:
“That’s the first thing a publisher will ask me,’ Sterling said. ‘What’s his next book?’ I can make a much better deal for Book #1 if I can tell them, ‘Steve’s just finishing the next one and it’s a corker.’”
Beyond such commercial considerations however lies the deeper soul-connection between you and me and our Muse.
The goddess does not like it when we sell ourselves and our gifts short. Can you blame her? She’s the one giving us those gifts.”
Agents and readers will want another book or post or article from you. Sorry, that’s how it is. Why do King, Grisham, and Rowling still write more books? They can’t live off last years title.
More of You
People like your voice and perspective and want more of YOU. Agents and marketers and publishers need more of your stuff to put on the shelf. Your book might be great, and a bestseller, but the expiration date is coming soon. You can’t live on last years juice.
Write number two.
And, like Pressfield said, The Muse, has more to say through you. The Muse won’t shut up and has more gifts to give to the world through you. You can’t shut down the voice of The Muse even if 3you try, sorry.
Are you in the middle of NANOWRIMO? Working on your first book idea? Think about the second, third, and fourth. Think about a shelf of books.
You’ll be glad you did.