Claire King


That Tricky Second Novels

Posted on: July 27th, 2011 by Claire - 38 Comments

I have a confession to make.

As many of you will know, after signing the contract for the publication of my first novel, I was left with a good two years before the launch date (19 months to go and counting!). What to do with all that time? Well write the next novel of course. And if it all goes well get started on the subsequent one. Keep going.

But that’s not exactly what I’m doing. Despite my best efforts, I now find myself writing two new novels at the same time. I am scrivenerally promiscuous.

I started the second one – Novel Two – fully intending to write it, edit it and finish it before moving on. But then another new story began to grow in that special place between heart and head that told me it was a good one. It came with its own momentum, seductively calling me to ‘just jot down a few notes and save them for later’ right at the moment when Novel Two was being wrangly and beligerent. I crept into a corner and wrote down the notes for Novel Three. And then I developed them. And then developed them some more while Novel Two sat in a corner looking at me sullenly. I felt bad for it, I honestly did. But wading through the mud of shaping Novel Two seemed much less fun than splashing in the waves of Novel Three.

But Novel Two has its own pull. I feel passionate about the themes, I see huge potential in the characters. It is only finding the right way to appear them that is tough. They deserve to be written. So once I had captured the immediate energy of Novel Three -several thousand words of it – I returned, abashed, to Novel Two. And Novel Two began to grow. The characters began to take on shape and momentum, as I knew they would. The themes blossomed in tiny little eureka moments sparking new scenes and greater depth. And then I had to stop writing for a week.

Towards the end of that week it was Novel Three that was calling me. At first just a whisper but then louder and louder because there were some ideas for scenes that just had to be captured before I forgot them. It Was Urgent. So I did. Maybe, I thought, Novel Three will be novel two and Novel Two will be novel three? Perhaps that will make most sense. But Novel Three needs quite a lot of research. And of course now Novel Two is calling for my attention again.

So I have decided to accept my fate and let these two novels grow side by side, not so much like twins, but more like a literary three legged race. I have the time for this luxury. But isn’t this all a little…weird?

38 Responses

  1. Nettie says:

    I feel this pull between competing ideas all the time, but whereas you are working on one or the other, it confuses me into inactivity and scrabble instead. At least you are writing!

    • claire says:

      Thanks, Nettie. Yes at least I’m writing. Usually with short story ideas, the ‘just write it down and file it’ method works well for me. And then of course you have a whole jar of story starters when you need inspiration. I understand what you mean about confusion, and I’ve banned myself from all games on the computer for just that reason! xxx

  2. I so relate to this!
    I’ve just gone back to rework a novel I wrote a couple of years ago, which will come out as my second book (Feb 2013)… but, I’m not sure I am ‘reworking’ that book. I seem to have embarked on another, with new characters, leading me down a new path. In other words, I think I may have two books – currently tangled in to one.

    Happy writing!

  3. What a fantastic problem to have, Claire. I envy you!

  4. Pete says:

    I am impressed and depressed in equal measures. I’m struggling to get to grips with anything above flash fiction and small stones at the moment (despite the great plotting capabilities of Scrivener).

  5. What do you do with the brown paper?

    • claire says:

      You stick as much as you have on a wall, and then you use post-its to map out a general plot structure, maybe use different coloured ones for different story threads or characters. You can add cut out pictures or basically whatever you like to try and bring the thing visually to life all in one view…before you start writing. I find it more effective to do that physically, and on a grand scale, rather than use a computer or A4 paper.

      • Kate Brown says:

        This sounds like exactly the tool for the problem I’m stuck on. Off to buy brown paper, post-its and create an alternative view!

  6. The thing is, you’re writing so you shouldn’t worry. It seems that going back and forth between two books is keeping the writing appetite of your brain well sated! And that’s very good.

    And if one is going to be promiscuous, scrivenerally is the best way. 😀

  7. Thanks, Claire. I do something similar, but the paper’s not brown. Didn’t know if that was significant! I agree with Marisa, above. There’s probably something very healthy about shuttling between the two projects, keeping all those ideas ricocheting off each other. When I get stuck with the novel, I turn to short story writing, my guilty pleasure. There’s something very satisfying about FINISHING a piece of writing, and you have to wait a long time for that feeling when it’s a novel you’re working on. (At least, I do. Not the quickest writer in the world.)

    • claire says:

      Brown not significant at all, it’s just that Pete and I used to work together and used a lot of brown paper in that context for ‘day job’ stuff. Brown because it was cheaper than white!

      • Pete says:

        I still love brown paper. I remember ordering a roll for a project but they sent a full roll that weighed about 100kg. I had to get a trolley to wheel it around!

  8. claire says:

    I just read this article from Marcus Sakey that says ‘it’s dangerous to work on multiple projects. Completing a single book can take years. Try to write three at once, odds are you’ll finish none.”
    Mind you I’m not a ‘start at the beginning and write to the end’ kinda girl either…

    • Marcus Speh says:

      no, YOUR post is fascinating, while i don’t think much of this kind of list (sakey), especially by thriller authors. you never know if they’re marketing or just telling…which i think is one of the issues with this kind of advice: it only works for those writers whose inner editors live closely together with their inner creators. alas, i am not one of them. i happen to believe that anything worth writing is worth publishing & that all good writing will be published & find its readers, too. a thriller writer may also have different priorities (and market expectations) than the literary writer.

  9. Richard Sheehan says:

    Glad to read that others have this problem. I started my second novel and completed several thousand words before coming to a bit of a halt. It was due mainly to a surfeit of ideas and struggling to make a choice.

    Out of one of those choices came the idea for another novel, one that I’m currently inspired by. So now I’m working on this while contemplating the other, which I’ll pick up again later (hopefully).

  10. Gill Hoffs says:

    Perhaps instead of twins it’s more like having siblings competing for your attention, and having to make themselves more interesting and worthwhile to get it? I find I do several different projects at once, and use the reverse sides of cereal boxes, post-its, and backs of old envelopes to scribble out notes, beginnings, lines of dialogue etc. As regards Mr Sakey, I’m far too impatient to take more than about a month to write a book. But that doesn’t include final edits, time unlooked at to gain distance, or thinking time. And neither has been published yet, so perhaps when a year long book comes along, that’ll be The One! Congrats on the contract.

  11. writeanne says:

    Snap! I’m doing the same – got Novel 2 almost first drafted and got side-tracked by a children’s novel.I’m glad to be in such good company 🙂

  12. Eeleen Lee says:

    Congratulations on your publication!

    It’s normal for writers to have more than one project on the back-burner. Creative energy can be used in different ways.

  13. Mike Clarke says:


    Was this your first published novel or first one you completed?

    • claire says:

      Ah, well the novel with the contract is my first published novel and the second one I completed. So I’m calling The Night Rainbow ‘Novel One’ and the very first one is known as ‘Beta Novel’

  14. I think I ought to take a leaf out of your book. I have two novels in my head at the moment – one has been written, and rewritten, and needs to be written at least one more time right through! I love the story, I love the characters, but it’s not written how it should be yet.

    However, I also have a second novel that I’m desperate to get started on, and I’m not letting myself…maybe I should, though. Maybe I should just go with the creative flow and write what needs to be written at the time…

  15. Marcus Speh says:

    kudos to your conflict. without me being able to name them, it seems to me that there were plenty of great writers with exactly that problem. which is not to say that having the same problem as picasso turns you into picasso…i wish it was that way. but it is comforting to know that, at the root, we all struggle with the same issues. i’m working on one novel whose plot (if there is one) and characters (there are many) have been on my mind for a couple of years now, but i always have another large project on the back burner. i have a feeling that they feed each other rather compete. perhaps they’re more than twins, perhaps they’re two sides of the same subject, just not equally fed (yet) and ready to be born.

  16. Jackie Ley says:

    I think I’d implode if I tried to write two novels simultaneously, but we all work differently – so all power to you! I’d be inclined to keep noting dowsn the ideas for one, while concentrating on the other.

  17. Marcus Speh says:

    …your observation is still going around in my head & i think i found out that i write all my future novels, all the time, in parallel. not strictly speaking, of course, but i believe i will find many of the small flash pieces that i produce and put out on the electronic ocean again later in novels.

    • claire says:

      Hmm, having read your writing it doesn’t surprise me at all that you have several things on the boil at once in that brain of yours! I look forward to little senses of déja vu when I get to read something longer!

  18. Rufus Evison says:

    Write what wants writing and go with the flow. You will do best at what you enjoy doing. If one of the two is work and the other is play then play! It will work best that way in the end as long as you do not play with 77 novels and not really get any of them done.

    BTW Did you get the video of Danie I posted about her contract?

  19. Frances Kay says:

    At the risk of arousing the idealistic and creative wrath of your readers, I have always found that when I have been COMMISSIONED to write [plays], inspiration immediately flows as soon as the first cheque is handed over. Could you not pretend you have a large cheque dependent on one of those novels? [Maybe you have].. On the other hand, in psychodrama we say you must do the piece of work you are warmed up to. You can’t ignore the urgent promptings of your great unconscious, our ‘wild mind’ from which all inspiration flows.

    • claire says:

      It’s funny, Carole Hayman gave an after dinner talk last weekend at Tilton, and somebody asked the question ‘How do you decide which form of writing you are going to work on next?’ (e.g. Radio play, screen play, novel etc)
      Carole replied, ‘It depends who will pay you the most.’

  20. Alison Wells says:

    What an interesting dilemma and I don’t know how you have progressed since this post. I am on literary novel 1 (actually novel 2) but am thinking a lot about the next novel and the one after that. I don’t know whether that’s my distractable self just trying to avoid the challenges of getting this one right or is it because I know that the next idea is a lot more straightforward and will profit from what I have learned on this.

    • claire says:

      A couple of months on, and somewhere between me and novel two we’ve decided to focus on each other! So novel three is no longer allowed writing days (but I’m still allowed to make notes). Elizabeth Baines recently describes the transitional phase between one novel and the next as “cleaning the room” which is a great analogy. You can see her post here:
      Meanwhile I am now thrown back into novel 1 for edits, so that’s interesting. A bit like an old lover walking into a room when you’re mid-tryst with the new one. But that’s another post!
      Just keep writing, I think, and things will settle themselves.

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