It’s not always easier the second time around

A book review in The New York Times on Saturday caught my eye — not because of the book, but because of what the reviewer had to say about second novels:

It’s hard to think of a less privileged creation than the second novel. When we admire a writer’s debut, it’s like falling in love across a crowded room; we are seduced by a part that we have mistaken for the whole. And when the follow-up reveals, as it must, a more complex picture than we at first believed we saw, our feelings are mixed.

I find that, for the writer, the feelings when writing that second novel are equally mixed, if not more so.

Nobody told me there'd be days like these.

I was totally seduced by my first novel. The very first draft, in particular, came out as if drawn from the Muses themselves. At the time, I fervently believed the setting was pure gold, the characters were pitch-perfect and the plot was pure excitement…all accompanied by a side order of AWESOME. Of course, I know now that this was not the case. Revisions, as I said last week, quickly dispel these erroneous feelings by making you see all the flaws that you missed in your euphoria. But the revision process ultimately makes the golden setting shine, the characters find their pitch and the plot truly exciting. The awesome was always there; it just needed to be distilled.

So while my agent reads my latest revisions, I’m working on the book’s sequel. Like the first time out, I was quickly seduced. I went from sketching out characters and plots to a full scene outline in relatively short order; the scenes were good, too. The plot is more complex, more interesting, more nuanced. Last week, I started to write scenes.

My God…what drivel.

I hate sounding like the stereotypical tortured writer. I’ve written under extreme circumstances, with unforgiving deadlines and equally unforgiving editors, and I generally have no time for such artiste-like dramatics. And yet, I’m sitting there, looking at a half-written scene, wondering exactly why I can no longer bend the English lanugage to my will. The words staring back at me from the screen are just really…bad.

It took a few days for me to understand why this was: The spun-gold, pitch-perfect, exciting first draft I wrote for my first novel was just as bad. Actually, upon review of the original Word file, it was worse. The difference now is that, after four revisions and exposure to professional critiques and feedback, I’ve become a better writer, and I now can see how bad the draft is as I’m writing it.

In order to forge ahead, I have to do one of two things: 1) Continue writing crappy first drafts, but with the knowledge that my revision process will be more extensive; or 2) Find a better way to write first drafts. I’m leaning toward the latter. With some better planning of each individual scene, I think — hope — I can avoid some of the pitfalls I see in these first scenes.

And hey, at least I see those pitfalls now. They were all over the first draft, awesome notwithstanding, and I didn’t see squat.

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