Fall in Love with Your Second Act

I love me some Billy Joel. I especially love this song.

Granted, it’s a song that deals with a serious issue in a gentle way, but I do think that, on another, lighter level, it can also be applied to our writing journey.

You better believe there will be times in your life
When you’ll be feeling like a stumbling fool
So take it from me you’ll learn more from your accidents
Than anything that you could ever learn at school

The Second Act

How many of you struggle with the second act?

The second act of our stories is often called the Saggy Middle and tends to be the part of the writing process that authors struggle with the most.

But there are other types of second acts. Like the second act after you get an agent. Or the second act after you sign your first contract, or get your first deadline, or your first set of reviews—whether positive or negative. 

Or, more personally, a second act can be the period of time after divorce, after a loved one has passed, after the kids have left the house, or after a big move. And if you’re a writer (which if you’re reading this post, more than likely are!), then you’re also trying to figure out how to write a book during this second act.

To sum it up, the second act is the moment of time after a big, life-altering change. You can never return to the way things were in the first act. That’s done. And now, you’re left to wander in the forest, without guidance, doing your best to figure out your new plan or your new normal. 

The second act is hard. Most times, it’s the hardest period of time in writing our book or living our life. So how can you possibly fall in love with your second act?

It’s not always easy to be living in this world of pain
You’re gonna be crashing into stone walls again and again

You’re Only Human

Though you feel your heart break
You’re only human
You’re gonna have to deal with heartache
Just like a boxer in a title fight
You got to walk in that ring all alone
You’re not the only one who’s made mistakes
But they’re the only thing that you can truly call your own

Now’s the moment to take a deep breath and remind yourself that the second act is just that. It’s an act. It’s a fixed amount of time with a beginning and an end, though it can often feel, and be, twice as long as our first act. And no story is complete without a third act. There is more to come.

But how do you keep momentum through your second act? 

When you feel like your characters (or life) are rising up against you and calling out “Mutiny!”, how is it possible to love them and love the process? How could anyone love the pain of the second act??

Well, it’s tough. But here are some thoughts that could help if you’re struggling with your second act:

  1. You’re only human. You are not invincible, and you are not supposed to be. Give yourself permission to rest, to take a break, and don’t beat yourself up over staying longer than you expected in the second act.
  2. Your characters, to be relatable, must also struggle in the second act. They are human as well…or at least humanoid or have human-like qualities. Great characters have great hardships…and I guarantee they weren’t easy to write for the author.
  3. This is the process. It’s not ‘part of the process.’ It IS the process. You cannot get from act one to act three without all the pieces of act two. There will be wins, but more losses, and just when you think it can’t get worse, it does. During this part of writing the book, you may feel like you’re stagnant, not going anywhere, or that your time would be better spent mindlessly binge-watching Netflix than staring at your computer screen.

But…

Don’t Forget Your Second Wind

Wait in that corner until that breeze blows in
You’ve been keeping to yourself these days
‘Cause you’re thinking everything’s gone wrong
Sometimes you just want to lay down and die
That emotion can be so strong
But hold on
Till that old second wind comes along

When you’re ready to move from the second act, you’ll know. There will be a new spark, or you’ll have done something new, something different to give yourself a fresh path. A second wind. 

Lately, I’ve been stuck in the second act writing-wise, and it took quite a few things to get my second wind a-blowin’. I tried everything. Even painting my toenails a different color (which doesn’t work, fyi). Here’s what I found to be most effective in getting a second wind for your story:

  • Go for a mindful walk, focused on your story.
  • Present a question about your story to your brain before going to sleep. Let your subconscious go to work.
  • Change up your workspace. Try working outside, at a coffee shop, in your car (parked, of course), or at a friend’s house. Sometimes new ideas require a new environment.
  • Throw in a nudist. See how they shake up your story. Sure you may not use the scene, but I guarantee you’ll get some new reactions from your characters.
  • Brainstorm with a trusted friend or critique partner.
  • Read. Read. Read.

Will it still be hard? YES! That’s life. And you’ve still got act three to hero your way through. But you’ve developed resilience in the second act. Your characters (and you) have been tried. Tried past the point of what you or they thought you could take, and you know what? You’re still here. Your characters are still here, fighting and ready to move forward. All of you, author and characters, are bruised and battered, but with a new, quiet, unshakeable confidence. You’ve been through the storm of the second act.

You’ve already won.

Cause All I Needed Was A Little Faith

So I could catch my breath and face the world again
Don’t forget your second wind
Sooner or later you’ll feel that momentum kick in
Don’t forget your second wind
Sooner or later you’ll feel that momentum kick in

Most times, the second act is the hardest because we start to lose faith in our stories and ourselves. Because it’s hard, because the words aren’t flowing, because we’d rather clean toilets than write, our natural answer is that the story must suck and, therefore, so must the author crazy enough to have thought this would be a decent story to write.

Holding on to our own faith in ourselves and our stories can be hard. Impossible at times. And that’s okay. But that’s also why a good critique partner is worth her weight in diamonds. She’ll encourage you when you think you stink and find a way to help you forward. 

So if you’re having a hard time latching onto your own faith, it’s okay to latch onto someone else’s faith in you for a little bit. We all need help in the second act, including our characters, but so many times, we wait to ask for help until it’s our last resort.

Fall in love with your second act. Love it like a mischievous kitten or a temper-tantrum toddler. Accept that it is the process.

You’re only human, after all. 

Christina Delay

Resident Writing Coach

Christina is the hostess of Cruising Writers and an award-winning psychological suspense author. She also writes award-winning supernatural suspense under the name Kris Faryn. You can find Kris at: Bookbub ǀ Facebook ǀ Amazon ǀ Instagram.
Cruising Writers brings authors together with bestselling authors and industry professionals on writing retreats. Join Cruising Writers this November in the Easter Caribbean with Writers Helping Writers co-founder Angela Ackerman and New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Darynda Jones!

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13 Responses to Fall in Love with Your Second Act

  1. Tessa Floreano says:

    Billy Joel fan since 1980 and I had forgotten about this song so I appreciate the reminder of how good it is. He really is a terrific songwriter. As for second acts, I’m struggling to edit my manuscript and finish writing the outline of my second novel. Some days are better than others, but this morning I, too, found my second wind. Thanks for this great post!

  2. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday! For Writers & Readers 02-27-2020 | The Author Chronicles

  3. Dawn says:

    I so needed this right now. I’ve been stuck for several days. I’ve been editing a story I’ve written and realized chapter 17 was boring. So I tried to brainstorm ideas to pick up the pace. But every idea I came up with was just a rehash of things that have already happened or things that were going to happen in the near future. So yesterday I decided to skip editing this chapter. So far, I’m still stuck. But maybe moving forward with something else will help. Or maybe it’s a sign I just need to delete chapter 17.

  4. Carol Michell Storey says:

    Dude, these words you speak… It’s like you’re writing about my life! And it makes more sense when you put it into a real life frame of reference. Thank you for your insight.

  5. This reminds me of the time I had just got engaged, moved cities, started a new full-time job plus wedding planning AND was doing a playwriting initiative in my previous city which required me to fly back and forth every weekend and rewrite a short play during all my free time during the week (ha ha).
    Seldom in my life have I been so stressed.

    Interesting you suggest adding a nudist: someone of that ilk popped up in my soon-to-be-released novel, just about – you guessed it! – at the beginning of Act II.

  6. Throw in a nudist? 😀 LOL!

  7. Great post and reminders to be gentle on ourselves. Becca and I are in the second act of sorts right now and there are many things that are not easy (business stuff, not relationship stuff–Becca’s amazing!) but we’re taking it a bite at a time and getting through it. Thanks for this – great timing for me. 🙂

  8. Love. Billy. Joel. I saw him in concert at Madison Square Garden a few years ago and he did not disappoint :). I can really appreciate the comparison of second acts in stories to second acts in real life. Thanks for making it look easy (and making it easy for us)!

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