: síndrome de la segunda novela

Encontré un artículo interesante de Malcolm Knox del Sydney Morning Herald acerca de una enfermedad que actualmente padezco y que quiero compartir con ustedes. Se trata del Síndrome de la Segunda Novela. Es decir, del pánico escénico y de la presión que representa esa pérdida de la inocencia como escritor tras haber sacado a la luz la primera novela y encontrarse enfrascado en la escritura de la segunda. Puf...

Panic after a first successful novel is perfectly natural, but what if it never passes? Second-novel syndrome (SNS), the so-called performance anxiety writers undergo after a first-up success, is as old as the novel itself.

The conventional view on SNS is that it is a seizure caused by a loss of innocence. Don DeLillo said a first novel comes to the writer as a gift and he doesn't necessarily know how he wrote it. It's the second novel that teaches him how to write. British editor Simon Prosser once said, "When you write your first book, you don't know who you're writing for or what awaits you. With the second book, if your work has been digested in the press, you think, 'Oh, is my writing really like that?' It's impossible to ignore the consciousness of your work being out there and people reading it and thinking things about it."

Some writers capitalise on the momentum of a first publication to dive into their second. Many, having toiled for years to finish their first book, are so flattered by their publisher's attention and that longed-for question - "when can we see your next book?" - that they will plunge headlong into production.

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Zadie Smith

After the phenomenon of White Teeth, Zadie Smith threw herself into The Autograph Man with a haste that most readers and reviewers eventually judged to have been ill-conceived. She then buried her second novel's moderate reception with the rapid response of her more highly praised third novel, On Beauty. Many readers and critics will still doubt that she can revisit the heights of White Teeth, so she may be said to suffer a more prolonged SNS than usual.

Is there really anything to it, or is SNS a myth? Reviewers who fall for the schematic over the actual will lament the "disappointing second novel" just as they will damn a debut with the faint praise of "an author to watch in the future".

The second published novel is often one that was started and even finished before the first. What the critic praises as the brilliant first book, long in gestation, inspired and innocent, may well be novel No. 8 by that writer; and the condemned second book, "pumped out too quickly", "too conscious of an audience", "a disappointing follow-up", is in fact novel No. 4 that took several years longer. Unless you know the novelist's working method intimately, you can't make assumptions.

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Jeffrey Eugenides

Nevertheless, where a genuine first novel has distilled a writer's entire lifetime, been rewritten in 20, 30 or 40 drafts and met with great acclaim, it is only natural for the attempt at a follow-up to cause a seizure. In a New Yorker article about writer's block in 2004, Joan Acocella called SNS "a subdivision of the early-success problem", itself one of many causes of writer's block. She interviewed Jeffrey Eugenides, who had survived SNS by following up The Virgin Suicides with the even greater success of Middlesex.

He said: "No one is waiting for you to write your first book. No one cares if you finish it. But after your first, if it goes well, everyone seems to be waiting. You're suddenly considered to be a professional writer, a fiction machine, but you know very well that you're just getting going. You go from having nothing to lose to having everything to lose, and that's what creates the panic." He only escaped SNS by running away to Berlin and taking his time to create a work that was much more ambitious than the first.

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Michael Chabon

It could be said that SNS is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes a writer only has one story to give the world. John Kennedy O'Toole died before A Confederacy of Dunces was published - a deft way of evading questions about how he was going to follow it up. For other writers, the moderately successful second novel is merely a rite of passage on the way to the triumphant third. This was the case with contemporary American novelists such as Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon.

The early success problem? Try the early failure problem. Each book feels like a last roll of the dice, not a stepping stone to a solid literary career. Fewer publishers are willing to persist with a novelist beyond a weak-selling first or second novel, so writers are responding by spending longer and waiting until the book is absolutely right before letting their publishers take a look. This is giving second novels more of the long-brewed characteristics of first novels.

But true SNS can only exist where the first novel has been hugely successful. All writers know that if you haven't had a big bestseller, it's harder to get published next time, no matter what you write; and if you have had a big bestseller, you will be published, no matter what you write. There's a catch both ways.