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December 19, 2013

The Beauty of the Second Novel

When studying an author’s canon, there’s always the question as to how many of his themes are run intentionally throughout his writing, and how much is the work of the subconscious.

 

I’m aware that my own experiences, opinions, and philosophies play a role in the conscious choices I make about how my characters will behave—or misbehave—when I’m writing.  Yet other events and personality traits that are emerging as I outline my next work in progress feel organic as I craft them, but upon reflection, I realize are also present in my first finished work.

 

I’ve heard it said that novel writing is like making pancakes—sometimes you have to throw the first one out (for the record, I think this metaphor works better with waffles; the pancakes at the end of batch are the ones I burn). Completing the first convinces you that you can do it, but it’s not always strong enough to publish. The second, one hopes, is stronger, and it can also be a more reliable reflection of what issues, themes, and types of conflict are important to you as a writer.

 

In a way, it’s like having more than one child. With my first, sometimes I can’t tell which traits are those of his temperament and which are those typical of a three-year-old. The experience of the first is invaluable, and there’s no substitute for the journey.

 

But with my youngest, who is about to turn a year old, I am having a much easier time telling how much of what he does is just “baby” and what is “Henry.”

 

Likewise, figuring out which characters and situations take the lead in a second novel can be done with more confidence than with the first, because of the experience of knowing how to craft a book-length work—and because of the knowledge of what really resonates with you as a writer.

 

Each time I make a new note for this novel, I’m finding there is a different kind of joy in seeing what’s common and what’s unique, what’s new and what endures as I grow—as a person, as a parent, and as a writer.

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