The pitfalls and perils of writing the sequel

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You’ve finished your first novel.


Now you wait…for an agent, a publisher, or what have you (a lot of us are in the “what have you” phase).

What’s next?


Start on the next book.

That’s a piece of advice I had heard over and over:  Don’t stagnate.  Keep the momentum going.

So that’s what I did when I had finished Dangerous and Unseemly and sent it into the ether. Surely, I thought, now that I have a ton of writing experience, this one will be easier.

Yeah, right.  And don’t call me Shirley.

It’s okay to laugh.  I can laugh about it, too.

Here are some unexpected challenges that have come up (so far) in the sequel process.  Those of you working on book #2 will probably recognize these.  Most of them fall under the category:  A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing.

1. Your last job was…?

With endless revisions fresh in my mind from the first book (along with the mantra:  “What was I thinking when I wrote this awful passage?”), the inner Critic is wide-awake and ready to pounce upon the early lurching steps of writing the second book.  It doesn’t seem to matter to the Critic that her turn will come later.  Promise.

2.  Not that again!

The first book, with a first plot, a first set of dastardly deeds and dastardly culprits, seems to want more air time than it’s entitled to.  I have to be on the look-out for a rehashing of old patterns.  I’ve already corrected a few that tried to sneak in incognito.

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Obviously, every author wants her work to be fresh and surprising.  The challenges are spotting the ones that need fixing and not over-thinking the ones that don’t.  Some choices are a bit limited: for example, the gender of a murderer.  There are two:  male, or female (transgender wasn’t even a concept in the 19th century).  As long as I make sure that all the women aren’t angels and all the men aren’t villains, there’s not much more I can do.  That doesn’t keep me from thinking about it, though.

3.  What’s the itinerary?

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Where am I going?  How long am I going to be gone?  Sometimes it’s daunting to think about how long of a process book-writing is.  Sort of like labor and delivery, it’s an open-ended commitment:  it will be over when the book is finished, and the book will have to take the time it needs to take.  It’s also similar to the feeling you had when you got into the family car as a small child.  You were along for the ride, but didn’t have a clue where you would end up or how long it would take.  You just hoped there was going to be a bathroom along the way.

One way that I tried to take charge of this was by making as detailed a plot outline as I could.  Of course, the drawback of this was that no real writing was taking place.  And as I should know from the first book, I can’t work out all of the plot kinks in the beginning, anyway:  the writing process itself will open up the possibilities.  That’s always a leap of faith.


4.  So, what have you been doing?


When one expends a great deal of mental energy and time without much output, this is a difficult question.  But hey, I’ve been planning my next novel, I say.  It’s time to take some credit and move on to the next step – writing!


Here’s my new mantra:  enthusiasm cures all (writing) ills.  Enthusiasm for the plot, for the characters, for what surprises are in store for the reader.  Believe in yourself; leave that Inner Critic at the gas station.

Have you been working on a novel?  What approaches do you use to keep your momentum going?

Until next time,


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7 thoughts on “The pitfalls and perils of writing the sequel”

  1. Lyn MidnightLyn Midnight

    Oh boy. I am still editing the first monster. Whenever I think about the sequel, it makes me queasy. Though I have to say that the sequel’s focus is slightly more interesting than the first book’s. See? I’m already skipping steps, grrr!

    I love this post. I imagine there’d be a lot of difficulties with the sequel (I am writing a sci-fi series). For me, the biggest problem will be keeping up the momentum. I tend to give myself long breaks that do anything but help.

    So not much advice in this scattered brain of mine. But I can check in a bit to see if anyone else has any insights. Thanks and keep writing! ^_^

  2. Nancy LauzonNancy Lauzon

    Good post, Kathy. I still get the jitters thinking about the next book, and I’m on #5. A little voice inside says ‘you’ll never finish this one. You have no books left in you. Give it a rest.’ So annoying! I feel that way until I finish the first draft, and then I’m better.


  3. Tiffany A WhiteTiffany A White

    Eh! I’m still editing the first one….and I’m constantly thinking, do I want to keep going and write a series or is that so yesterday? Or is that the only way to sell multiple books? Or should I start on a new idea that I have already started to plot that’s not tied to the first one? Or do I go back and get an office job? You can see, I’ve got a ton of questions circling in my crazy writer’s head.

    Great post!

  4. Paul OwenPaul Owen

    Wait, what was that about “make sure that all the men aren’t villains”? I thought all the men in those 19th century cozies were dashing young heroes of courtesy and honor, or stately old fellows of dignity and wealth. (Oh, but I guess there has to be a murderer…)


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