Why Starting Novel #2 Will Make You Question Everything

I started my second novel at full pelt and full of enthusiasm.


A shiny new project to work on!

I felt more confident going into this novel than the first for three reasons:

  1. This one had been simmering away in the back of my head for a couple of years so the outline was clearer in my head.
  2. I knew I could write a novel.
  3. I had studied and put into practice the rules.

So this time around, it should have been easier. But it wasn’t. And I couldn’t understand why.

I pondered this question… ate a bar of chocolate…and pondered a li’l bit more….drank some wine…then took a nap, woke up and pondered further. Like a scatterbrained Sherlock Holmes I reached several conclusions:

Conclusion 1: I know how to write a novel

Does the first draft process feel different with this novel?

When I started writing the first draft of novel #1 I was in awe of the fact that  I was actually writing the novel. After so many false starts over the years, I was finally doing it. I was dreamy-eyed. In love with my progress. Book #2 is so different. I know that I can write a novel. I know what’s required. I realise that the first draft is an achievement, but I’m acutely aware that there is a long way to go yet. So it isn’t the big achievement that it was when I wrote my first novel. It feels very different. The excitement is still there but the road ahead seems more daunting.

Lesson 1: The first draft of your second novel will feel different because you know that it’s only a small part of a difficult process.

Conclusion 2: I have great expectations of my writing

You should be a better writer now, shouldn’t you? This process should be easier and should yield better quality writing faster, isn’t that right?

While writing draft #1 of novel #1 ignorance truly was bliss. Reading over what I’d written gave me pleasure just by virtue of the fact that I could see the story moving along. I could see my novel finally happening.

Now that I’ve learned how to self-edit, I can see everything that is wrong with my writing. I can’t see what my novel is ‘about’ yet. I forgot that knowing what my first novel was actually about was something that took time to reveal itself. Given that I have a completed novel under my belt, and one that I am very proud of, I think I came to the page expecting to be able to write the first draft of this novel to a better standard. And when I went back and compared draft #1 of my first and second novels, there was a big difference in quality– I’d just forgotten how bad I was when I started out. I had forgotten that the rule, first beautifully articulated by Ernest Hemingway: ‘The first draft of anything is shit’ still applied to me. This rule applies to all writers and all first drafts.

Lesson 2: Your writing is better, it just doesn’t feel that way yet. 

Conclusion 3: I was too close to my last novel

Do you feel as though your writing has actually deteriorated since you finished your first novel?

I took a very short break between finishing my first novel and launching into the shitshow that is the first draft of my second novel. This closeness in terms of proximity means that I’m subconsciously comparing the two in terms of quality and feeling as though my writing has deteriorated. I need to constantly remind myself that I’m comparing my new novel to something that had undergone four drafts before it got to the stage where I was happy with it. It isn’t fair to judge your new novel, still in its infancy, to your completed first novel.

Lesson 3:  The first draft of EVERYTHING is supposed to be shit.

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My name is Catherine Day. After practising law for many years, I've decided to take the leap, leave law temporarily, and write the novel I've always wanted to write.

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