During a recent book club meeting, one friend mentioned she didn’t like the second novel of a mystery writer we all enjoy. Her comment led to a general agreement that the second, or sophomore, novel is often the worst of an author’s output. As I’m currently writing my second novel, I walked away dismayed.
This book has not come as easily as the first. Though I’m more confident in my craft, I’m less enamored of the process. Where writing the first book felt light, like flying, this one is more a matter of trudge, trudge, trudge.
In the past few weeks the most noteworthy thing I’ve done is to take a walk. Granted, it did not feel like an ordinary walk.
Growing up, I walked all the time. I walked to and from school, to friends’ houses, anywhere I needed to go. I walked out of necessity. My parents gave me reasonable amounts of freedom, but they weren’t interested in driving me around.
I often walked for thinking space. Sometimes I talked a friend into walking with me. More often I was alone. I walked to memorize the streets of my town, to learn what each neighborhood looked like, to make new discoveries. I walked the little-used railroad tracks, and roads that led into the country. Sometimes I brought a book and walked to a park to read. Other times I brought my camera and took pictures of landmarks I thought were cool. In winter, I hung a pair of ice skates over my shoulder and walked to the pond to skate. As I walked I made up stories, or fell in love with imaginary characters. At least that part hasn’t changed.
These days I dread my medical check-ups because I know my doctor will tell me I need more exercise. Exercise requires a different kind of walking, I think. Thirty minutes minimum. Raise that heart rate. Swing those arms. If you don’t exercise the right way, it doesn’t do any good. I don’t like exercise. Yet when I was young, I loved to take walks.
One bright cool afternoon last week I parked my car in downtown Olathe. I was there to find the Kansas Coffee Cafe, perhaps to write a post about it. Leaves crunched under my feet. The autumn sun warmed my head, and when I reached the coffee shop I did not want to go in. I wanted to go for a walk.
I walked south out of the commercial district, across quiet intersections to an orderly neighborhood of nineteenth-century homes. These homes weren’t large or fancy, just old and fairly well-maintained. They stood on rectangular lots, and backed onto alleys. In one yard I gaped at a contorted tree trunk, more twisted than any tree I’d ever seen. In another the rusted-out hulk of an ancient pickup truck made me smile. I wondered if the sight of it drove the neighbors crazy.
I enjoyed my unaccustomed point of view. By seeing the world at eye-level, I noticed things like porches and doorways. From my usual spot inn the driver’s seat of a minivan, I’m more likely to see the second floor. Or the roof.
Perhaps a few people looked at me funny, a stranger on foot in their neighborhood. I don’t know for sure, because I didn’t wonder what people would think. I didn’t think about Facebook or Twitter or How to Market Things More Effectively. I didn’t even think about my second novel. I just walked.
When I reached my minivan again, I felt lighter. Settled. At peace. Rather than trudge, trudge, trudge through an exercise routine, I’d recaptured the freedom of taking a walk.
Now I need to do the same for my writing life.