Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Writing the Second Novel--Ouch

Both COMPASS NORTH and the sequel
take place in Homer, Alaska

You’d think, wouldn’t you, that writing a second novel would be so much easier than writing the first.

After all, you stumbled through all the steps the first time, but now you’re much more experienced.  You know what worked and what didn’t work the first time around, in terms of organizing your manuscript.  You know that writing the middle of your book—“the muddle in the middle”—is going to slow you down, and you understand that you’re going to have to suck it up and plow through it.  You realize now that the completion of the first draft puts you less than halfway to having a “completed” comprehensive manuscript.  The first time around, you developed tricks to get yourself going when you seemed stalled, and now they are ready at your fingertips.

So the second book should be a piece of cake, right?

So wrong!

I can’t say that my experience is universal, but for me, penning the second novel has been just as difficult as writing the first one.  I know there are some more experienced writers out there who are producing one or two novel-length books every year, and I can only worship at their feet.  I have a sense that will never be me. 

Writing and publishing the first book was an act of faith.  It should have bolstered my confidence in my ability to produce competent work.  Instead, in writing the second book, I agonized about whether I had anything left to say.  Perhaps I had used all my good material the first time around.  And my now intimate knowledge of the novel-writing process hindered rather than helped me along the way with the second book.  Now I know all the painful hours that lie ahead of me before this project will be done.  I found myself resisting, procrastinating, and letting my writing slide into the background.  In the middle of the draft of the second book, my writing time ground to a halt.  When I did think about my story, those thoughts were colored by the guilty knowledge that I wasn’t moving the book forward and getting it done.

I also discovered that even though the first book is published and out in the world, it’s not a fully-launched child.  All the demands for promotion and marketing are at best a distraction from the new writing project, and at worst a huge time and attention drain.

But I did get back on track, when I finally put aside the guilt and my expectation that I should be sailing through book number two.  What put me back on the path was remembering why I write in the first place.  I write because I love to write, not because I have to.  The process of writing is often frustrating, always challenging, and there are days when there is more backward than forward motion.  There are days when the marathon journey of writing a novel seems impossible to navigate.  But I had forgotten, and had to rediscover, the fun of giving the characters in my head their place on the world, and the total joy (yes, joy!) of spending hours in the realm of my own imagination, and transferring that experience to the written page.  

Which brings me to my writing epiphany to share:  I believe that the process of writing is always going to be challenging.  I suspect that books three, four and beyond will present even more unique issues, but I think the key for me is remembering why I write in the first place.  So my writing advice for today:  Write because you love to write.  If you don’t love it, find something else to do that you do love.  Writing is just too much hard work if it doesn’t make you happy.

And so, A LATE HARD FROST, the sequel to COMPASS NORTH, is now well on its way.  Stay tuned.

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Big Mike said...

Wait till you get 20 stories under your belt. Then it gets real rough (g).

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Stephanie Joyce Cole said...

Have you really written 20 novels? I am very impressed.

Liz Fountain said...

Just what I needed - thanks!