Mar 30, 2012

why the second book is harder than the first

First of all, I must clarify that the "second book" in this subject heading does not refer to LUMINANCE HOUR 2, but to SouthernGothicNovel, which has given me much angst and cause for whining.

You would think that, like most learned skills (such as driving, riding a bike, reading...), writing books would get easier the more you do it. Like so:

Book 1 = daunted, confused, whiplashed, emotionally unstable author.
Book 2 = less daunted, a bit confused but mostly knows what they're doing author.
Book 3 = this is easy, peasy and better than German chocolate cake author!

This graph makes sense. Unfortunately, it does not reflect reality.

Reality looks more like this (for ALL THE BOOKS):

This is me, being tossed back and forth by writerly PMSage, thinking doom and generally black thoughts as to the future of this manuscript. And behind, in the distance, are my characters. Laughing. The one on the right is not fat. She's in a hoop skirt. (It's true).

The second manuscript sometimes feels like an ultimately evil practical joke. Secondary characters come across flat. Subplots get lost. Backstories become a load instead of the treasure trove of character depth I imagined they would be. I stare at my manuscript and wonder why, why it isn't working. And then I start wondering. Maybe my first book was a fluke. Maybe I really can't write and I somehow managed to deceive both my agent and my editor and the entire publishing company into thinking that I could.

However, discussions with many other debut writers in the Lucky 13s has helped me realize that these feelings of struggle, doom and suckage aren't signs of a poseur. They're normal. Every writer (or almost every writer) goes through this same process of struggling with book 2. And 3. And 4. And 5. Etc.

One super observant Lucky 13 brought up a very, very excellent point. One of the reasons writers get so frustrated with manuscript number 2 is because they expect a very unrealistic perfection. For months and months we've been working with highly polished manuscripts, giving them their final shine before they head off into the wide world. We've worked with these shiny projects for so long that we forget what they used to look like, the gnarled, warty first drafts they once were! So when we transition from flawless final draft to decrepit first/second/third draft, we start to lose heart. We forget that it will get better.

I think, because of this, the second book is actually harder than the first, because as writers we feel like we have to "live up" to these incredibly unrealistic expectations of producing a perfect first draft that's as good, if not better than our debut novel. And that, my friends, will never, ever happen.

So yeah, I'm working on giving myself grace with this manuscript. I can already see how it has such potential to shine. I just have to be patient and coax that out!


  1. This post is so well timed! I've been struggling with this a lot. After polishing #1, I've found it hard to sit back and just enjoy the first draft writing suckage of #2 (and #3... oops, how did I start writing you?). I keep reminding myself that the first draft, while frustrating, should also be fun.

    It's about exploration more than anything: it's your chance to seek out your story, to find out what it is--sometimes by writing through what it's not. I'm trying to relearn how to sit back, relax, and commit myself to the chaos that is the throwing-paint-at-the-wall stage of writing. But sometimes it is definitely hard!

    1. I love first drafting. It's the second draft re-haul that really murders me ("Really?! I have to rewrite THAT?!"). But yes, it is cool to see it made better.

  2. So true, Ryan. It's hard to remember how the 1st draft of your MS looked when the polished one is fresh in your mind, and it's impossible not to compare that to your present project.

    Every writer needs a cheerleader!

    1. Sometimes, for kicks and giggles, I go back to that very first MS. And then all the memories of slaving away in front of it return. :)