My Biggest Learnings from Book Two

Hello!  Hope you’re having a great week. I may or may not be obsessing over the return of Starbucks Pumpkin Cream Cold Brew, even if it’s currently about 90 degrees. Still, fall is calling! 

In my last post I went over my biggest learnings from writing book one. This time, you guessed it, I’ll be talking about book two.

I’m currently querying book two to literary agents with the goal of gaining representation. After everything I learned from book one, the learnings from book two were quite different.

For one, my first book helped me build a foundation as a writer. By book two, I was no longer starting everything from scratch, no longer trying to figure out my personal best methods/practices to write a book. I was no longer learning the very basics of storytelling.

But I started putting certain things into practice. With book one, I deeply regretted not sharing my story with trusted friends/writers to get their feedback early on. That’s probably the best thing I did during book two: I was always seeking guidance/ways to improve, while not sending out my work to absolutely everyone. I went through several beta rounds, multiple revisions, you name it. I put my craft first and took my writing more seriously than ever.

While book one took me five years off and on to complete, book two took exactly two. In short, I made writing a true priority in my life. I still had travel and friends and hobbies during that two-year period, and even my wedding to plan for, but writing became a central part of my life and identity. It was no longer “that thing I’ll get to when I feel like it.”

My goal for my third book, which I’m currently brainstorming, is to take about 14 months. I work full-time, and on a normal year I travel a bunch, so this feels like an ambitious yet realistic clip. I’m working my way toward writing and fully completing one book a year.

Which leads me to my biggest learnings from book two, lessons I’ll carry with me to make that 14-month timeframe a reality:

1. Do not neglect character arc in favor of plot. Y’all…I cannot tell you how much time I spent writing and rewriting and revising and maybe crying over fixing my main character’s arc. When I started book two, I was dead set on plot (which was a weak point in my first book). I thought that if I could have a strong plot, everything else would follow, and people would want to keep reading. Truth is, most people keep reading because of the characters. Heck, I know I do. And to have a successful story, you’ll need both. So while I eventually got to a place I was happy with, I definitely won’t be pushing character off for book three. It’ll be a top, if not the top, priority.

2. Voice is so important. Voice guides everything. I can’t pinpoint the precise moment I knew my main character’s voice, knew it so well I could have her answer anything in that voice. But I *do* know that it was deeply tied to her character arc. Which, again, took me ages to get correct. When I knew my lead, really knew her beyond just the pages I was writing, her voice came through sharp as a whip. It remains one of my favorite drafts, the one where I focused entirely on her voice, and I can’t wait to have that feeling again in my next book. If you’re looking for help on voice, an editor recommended “Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View” by Jill Elizabeth Nelson. I haven’t read it yet since I bought it so recently, but I’ll be diving in once I get drafting. As a caveat, I want to note that I write first-person deep POV novels, so voice is perhaps more important for my area than others.

3. Apply for mentorship competitions not expecting to get in, but to learn. I applied for Pitch Wars 2019 and got zero requests, which I now understand was likely due to voice/character issues. Five months later, after revisions that got closer to figuring out voice/character, I applied to Author Mentor Match and got 1 request. The mentor ultimately declined, but she gave me tons of feedback that I’m still enormously grateful for, because the voice/character finally clicked in a way they hadn’t before. I revised like a fiend from there, studied character further, and applied to RevPit two months later. I got an immediate request from a wonderful mentor who said she loved my voice, character and plot, and I knew I was finally on the right track. That mentor ultimately chose someone else, but I’m so glad I applied. RevPit even connected me with a fabulous critique partner, who helped me get the book to the finish line, and Author Mentor Match brought me closer to a dear writer friend who now listens to my many, many ramblings. Sorry Mal. My point of all this is: apply. See what happens. Use the deadlines to push yourself to meet them. These competitions are highly competitive and subjective, but they’re opportunities to learn, grow, and truthfully, to better handle rejection if it comes. Good practice for querying, really!

4. Don’t forget subplots. This probably seems obvious, but my original outline was very linear. There was a romantic subplot, but in terms of her literal journey, she didn’t really stray from her path; there weren’t a lot of fun twists and turns and surprises (apart from the very big ones). After a couple rounds of linear writing, I eventually had to make everything feel bigger, and subplots helped hugely for this. So with my new story, I’m building in more subplots right off the bat.

5. Write a synopsis/query before you start writing, and be sure it includes the character’s arc in the synopsis. This is something I experimented with early on, and it helped a ton to make sure I didn’t have massive holes in the plot, the stakes, etc. These materials ultimately changed pretty drastically before I started querying, but they helped me succinctly understand the basic plot and story arc, and to make sure I had clear stakes (another thing missing from my first book). The only thing I didn’t do was include my character’s internal story arc until much later, which is something I’ll include right away for my third novel.

Not all of these lessons will appeal to everyone, but for me, they’re some of the most important pieces I’ll take into this third book. I’ll be sharing so much more about that process in upcoming posts, and if you’re a newer or established writer looking to get moving on a new story, I hope it’ll help to read!

High fives and Pumpkin Cream Cold Brews,
Valerie

Note: photo above taken by me

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