By Jenny Hilborne, author of mysteries and thrillers
I've heard a familiar grumble from lots of multiple book authors who find each book they write is more difficult than the last. I'm no different. Each new book is harder and takes me longer to write. I've asked myself why. Is the difficulty a sign of improvement, or an indication I'm somehow lost in the process, buried under all the new information I pick up? Am I trying too hard?
I'm currently working on my fourth novel, Stone Cold, and I'm finding it is my most difficult book yet. I said the same thing when I wrote book #3, Hide and Seek. I thought the writing process would be easier with each book - I've picked up more and more tips, learned many of the "rules" along the way, and attended numerous workshops and writing conferences.
I first attended the Southern California Writers Conference in 2008, with a completed manuscript for my first book, Madness and Murder. I paid for a one-on-one critique with a publisher, who later became my publisher, but not until they'd rejected me, given me advice on how to fix my mistakes, and presented me with a rare second shot at submission. You see, I thought I knew enough to write a good book at that early stage, and I didn't. I've attended SCWC several times since, and always learned more and come away with great advice. Even after all this, I still find every book harder to write than the last.
Drew Kaufman and I briefly discussed this in a recent Facebook exchange. With all the feedback we've received, with what we now know and have learned along the way, why does each book become harder to write? Do we present our protagonists with more complicated challenges? Weave in more subplots? Do all authors feel this way? Are we improving or getting lost?
The more prolific an author is, the more readers expect from said author. Is this right? Fair? Well, I expect a lot from the well-known authors whose books I choose to read, yet I find I'm currently enjoying the books from lesser known authors much more. I've stopped reading Harlan Coben altogether. His later works don't impress me as much as the earlier stuff. I wonder if he got bored, or stopped trying as hard to please his audience, having "made it." In the works of some prolific authors, it's often easy to note similarities between books, a pattern if you like, or the authors voice. In some cases, this makes the outcomes of the stories predictable.
It's a challenge I struggle with myself. Only on my 4th novel, and I already find I have to work hard to avoid repetition, to stay creative and bring in new and unique threats, problems, and plot lines. After the release of my 2nd book, No Alibi, a returning reader remarked how my first 2 books were so dissimilar, they could have been written by different authors. Rightly or not, I took it as a compliment. I noticed from watching the X Factor how judges want new singers to be instantly recognizable to an audience by their style, their voice. This raised a question in my mind: do all authors have a "style"? Should they? Does it work the same way for emerging authors as for singers?
Back to difficulty: The hardest part of my first book was how to finish, writing a satisfactory ending. In subsequent books, this has become the easier bit. Now, I get lost in the middle. I know more about my writing and understand myself better as an author than I did several years ago, have learned more about character development, energy, pacing, consistency, small detail, yet it feels more than ever like work. Hard work.
Authors: Why are subsequent books more challenging to write? Is it because we continually raise the standards for ourselves as authors and strive to make each book better?
Readers: Do you like the authors you read to have a recognizable "style"?