#99: The Second Time Around

Here’s a question that people have asked me when I tell them I’m working on another novel: Is it easier (or faster) the second time around?

During the original Kickstarter project I leaned heavily on a software development metaphor, involving beta-testing, bug fixing, etc. As I’ve been talking to friends about this new book, and about having a career as an author, what I find myself reaching for is a hardware development metaphor.

Think of a novel as a set of core technologies: point of view, theme, sentence structure, use of imagery, manner of exposition … they’re like multi-touch sensors, linear feedback actuators, single-sheet-aluminum-stamping, sapphire crystal glass. Some writers do innovate at the component level, but most everyone else is learning how to work with existing technologies, combine them in different ways.

An author could spend her first book learning how to write really convincingly in first person single-narrator and in her next book tackle multiple narrators, more daring themes. A different author could do a lot of narrative memoir about the overwhelming aliveness of air missions across the Saharan desert and then scale down those technologies into a new form factor – a children’s book about a little prince. A third author could spend a decade perfecting one form factor, figuring out to write realistic modern-day stories about teenagers really really well. I mean, isn’t The Fault In Our Stars basically the Macbook Air of young adult novels?

You might’ve heard, leading up to this week’s Apple Watch events, about the company’s clandestine design studio where prototypes are evaluated on evolutionary fit:

[Evans Hankey, a design-team member] said that an existing product is often set alongside a model of a potential successor, to see if “the one that we’ve been enjoying for a couple of years or so – if it just feels really old and kind of stodgy, and the new one feels just amazing.”

Where there are worktables for each product:

Each table serves a single product, or product part, or product concept; some of these objects are scheduled for manufacture; others might come to market in three or five years, or never.

I’m especially fond of the Apple Design model because it says: We will build on what we have learned. It says: Each new thing will be a step forward. With each major product release Apple is learning to work with a number of new technologies, and often a particular technology simply isn’t ready for market yet. It might not be small enough, or energy-efficient enough, or socially acceptable yet. It might not have found the right product expression.

Sometimes as an author you’ve found a voice but no story to tell with it. Sometimes you have the story but can’t finish it because you haven’t figured out the voice. Sometimes you have to wait until the world around you changes, or until you’ve lived your way into the themes.

Which brings me back to question at the beginning of this week’s letter: Is the second book any easier or quicker than the first?

For me, the answer is: Not if I’m doing it right.