Sophomore Novel Slump

There are no easy methods of learning difficult things; the method is to close your door, give out that you are not at home, and work. ~Joseph de Maistre, French moralist and philosopher

“They” say once you’ve written one book, it’s easy to write another.

Don’t believe them … they lie.

My first book doesn’t come out for almost six weeks, yet I’m already struggling over the second one.

My characters won’t go where I lead. My plot has disintegrated more times than I can count. Who dies — and who lives — keeps changing.

“They” say you’re supposed to sit down, write a novel start to finish, then return to edit. Not edit as you go along.

Hmph! My writing is crablike. False starts that seem right, stop, back up, take a different path, work to another fork in the road, choose the left way, backtrack, and so on.

Yes, I know. If I outlined this wouldn’t happen.


“They” say you’re supposed to set a daily word count and do whatever it takes to meet it. Regardless of whatever else is pressing.

They lie.

My daily word count can be way up there. Or not.

Some days I can’t write a word. Others, I tap out hundreds, just to toss them all out the next day when I opt for the opposite trail.

Meanwhile I feel antsy to get this book written. To start on the third, which I’m convinced will proceed more smoothly.

Call it Sophomore Novel Slump.

Here are some things I’m trying to combat it:

1. Don’t stress. Celebrate the victory of writing your first novel. Realize lots of folks never do that.

2. Take breaks. Sitting at the computer for too long a stretch can be counterproductive.

3. Get physical. Take a walk. Sit in the sunshine. Dance. Move. Exercise helps your brain work better.

4. Work with your style, not against it. If you love to outline, do so. If you hate it, find another method.

5. Look ahead. This, too, shall pass. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

Any more advice — or cliches — you’d like to share?

22 thoughts on “Sophomore Novel Slump

  1. Debbie, I LOVE each and everyone of the things you’re trying to combat. Personally, I think they are EXCELLENT points to focus on because they are things, I feel, nurture inspiration and creativity.

    I understand your frustration because when I was an actor, people would often tell me that I needed to approach acting using a certain technique or follow certain rules, however like you, I had my own unique way of acting that no acting school could ever teach me because it was my OWN way.

    Ironically, when I finally accepted that and trusted my own flow, I began to get noticed and got jobs.

    ” My writing is crablike. False starts that seem right, stop, back up, take a different path, work to another fork in the road, choose the left way, backtrack, and so on.”

    That’s YOUR way of writing. So be it.

    So if I have any advice to give you it’s….trust your instincts and do it your OWN way.

    You are a very gifted writer, my friend. Trust.


    • Ron, what loving and selfless advice you’ve provided — thank you, my friend! It’s nice to hear I’m not the only one who goes at things in a unique manner. Trusting oneself and the process seems to be the key!

      When I was in journalism, most of us dreamed of writing “the great American novel.” I don’t guess any of us knew how HARD it would be, just to write a novel (much less a “great” one!). I can deal with the solitude, but not having reinforcement every now and then is challenging. I’m not big on critique groups because too often, they turn into gab sessions and time-wasters. It’s mighty good to hear you think I have a spot of talent — probably a bit prejudiced on your part, but I’ll take it!!

      Happy happy weekend! xx

  2. Here is my advice. Buy Annie Dillard’s little book, The Writing Life, and take time to read it. It isn’t long, but in the very first chapter she describes her writing process, which is remarkably like what you describe here. Outlining is great for an essay or a research paper, but it’s not the be-all and end-all for everything.

    Also, this caught me: “Meanwhile I feel antsy to get this book written. To start on the third, which I’m convinced will proceed more smoothly.” That may be your problem. If this book is only something to be gotten through, why write it? If the third book’s the one you want to write, write it.

    • Great advice, Linda, and thank you! I’m putting Annie’s book on my Christmas list and after I read it, I’ll need to keep it at my computer for reassurance.

      Obviously, I know the way I write can lead to a finished novel. After all, I’ve done it, ha! As to whether it’s the *best* way, well, probably not. I admit it’s slow. And often frustrating. And sometimes a waste of time and effort. However, I’m getting pretty good at “killing the darlings,” and that can’t be all bad!

      Perhaps I didn’t express that as clearly as I should have. The reason I’m antsy to get to the third one is that huge chunks of it are already written. I’d intended for them to be part of book two, but realized the timeline wasn’t quite right. But thanks for pointing that out and giving me a reason to pause!

  3. Eat chocolate? Buy a lipstick? Relish in the fact that all those little things that never get done, probably rise to the top of your to do list, the moment you decide to write and can be checked off. I bet your sock drawer is super organized. And last, but by no means least….HAPPY BIRTHDAY WEEK!

    • Aw, you remembered!! Thank you, Kb. Domer came home to help me celebrate and eat cake. In fact, he won’t be going back until tomorrow! That’s why I haven’t been online much.

      Eating chocolate and buying a new lipstick sound like perfect advice! And you’re so right about procrastinating. More than once I’ve zoned out, Domer has called me on it, and I’ve had to admit I was mentally plotting this book. Maybe I’ll do a kind of outline and give myself a chance this time!

  4. Writing isn’t an easy thing to do at all, Debbie, and as you noted, there are many people who would like to write one book and never do. There is truly no one correct way, I think that is going to be such an individual thing for everyone. One of my best and incredibly successful writer-blogger friends outlines all her books and has a stringent word count for every day. The minute I set a word count, the only thing I can count on is that I wouldn’t write a single word because I would be distracted by all the stress by worrying about writing. Oh yes, and some days I cannot write anything either. That’s just the way it works, but I’m always up for chocolate and new lipstick. Happy writing my friend!

    • Lana, thanks so much for the reassurance! Why do we creative types need so much of that, I wonder?? I think it would be so much easier to flesh out an outline and set a daily word count, but I just can’t. I run a small business and take care of my mom, so there are days when I haven’t a clue as to what “crises” might arise! I can see myself (NOT!!) telling a client to hold off until I hit my word count when they need me right now, ha!

      • That’s exactly true. There are many writers who are lucky enough to have a spouse who supports them or who were lucky enough to retire early and just write, but I believe that there are many more of us who have to live in the real world and do multiple other things than just write. We do the best we can, and you know what, that’s just fine 😀

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