Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The dreaded Sixth book

I've heard a few writers talking about “problem” books. The big problem book is the second one. Most writers never finish their second novel. I didn't. Mine was about a half-vampire who didn't know his wife was a werewolf. I took everything I learned from writing my first novel and made a horrible mess of 15,000 words (the entire first and second act).

The next problem book is the sixth. After writing five novels the sixth one should be easy, right? Nope. It's just as hard as the others. Harder in fact, as now you should know what you are doing and there should be a higher good to crap ratio. But there isn't.

You also think about all problems in your other books. One of the problems with my books is depth. In all my books a change in one chapter means going back and changing five other chapters. It's a pain when it comes to editing. It's a style I like and want to keep, but I run the risk of each novel becoming more and more complex.

Even AN EXTRA TOPPING OF HORROR which is a light comedy had this problem.

So for my sixth novel I turned back to my martial arts training.

A big problem in martial arts is as you learn more and more complex sets of skills that build on each other, you hit a wall and try as you might you just can't learn the next set. The problem isn't that the next set of skills is any harder to learn, but any flaws in your basic skills are amplified so much that they drag you down.

The solution is to go back to the basics and hone the skills you thought you had down pat, then try again. It is totally amazing how easy the advanced stuff becomes after doing that.

So for the novel I've been working on for the last 10 days, I've gone back to the basics. It has a very simple 3 part plot. The characters have very simple clear motivations. Everything moves forward naturally in a linear order. As simple a book as I can write.

It's strangely liberating writing this way. Knowing that if a reviewer says, “The book is simple and unoriginal...” I can say, “Thank you, that was what I was going for.”

The only thing I want this new novel to be is enjoyable and entertaining. I'll use the conversation from MIND THIEF when Howie and Vivian go on their first date to sum it up:

“Shall we.” Howie held out his arm.

“This just might be enjoyable.”

“Nice vote of confidence,” Howie said.

“Would you rather I had impossible to reach expectations?”

“No, I’ll shoot for enjoyable.” He laughed.


  1. Is the sixth book supposed to be hard? Technically, I've done a sixth book, but my first was so bad, I'm not sure it should count. But, if it does, my second meets your expectations.

    But then the sixth was a breeze, although completely different from anything I'd done before.


    My subconscious. Always doing the right thing when I'm not looking or understanding why.

  2. From my experience and from what other authors have told me, its not that the sixth book is "hard" it is just no easier than the first.
    I had though that by now novels would be as easy to write as my third novel "Setting Earth" which I wrote in 6 weeks. But it turns out there is still a lot of work involved in writing a novel.