The Hardest Chapter to Write

Years ago, when I was a magazine editor, I was in New York City at Folio Magazine meetings. We were starting our own magazine, and were there to gather as much sage advice as we could before we were swallowed up by the production machine. I remember the advice one editor gave us: “The hardest issue of a magazine to produce is not the first issue. The hardest issue is the second issue.”

It wasn’t until we got into producing our own magazine that I understood what he was talking about. When you are producing a new magazine, you put your best foot forward and lots of talent, money and energy into that first issue. You want to make a good first impression, which is understandable.

But as I told my co-author: “The best part about a magazine is that there is always another issue to put out, and the worst part about a magazine is that there is always another issue to put out.” That second issue is due, regardless of how much creative juice you already spent on the premier issue. And then the third, and the fourth, and the fifth. That’s where being a magazine editor becomes challenging: coming up with an endless stream of ideas. I loved it because of the challenge.

But that was a different life. Today I am an author, a novelist. And a similar issue comes to bear with each book that I write.

As I plan my book, the first chapter is pretty obvious. You need to start with a bang. You need to get the reader excited about the story, set the tone, and introduce the main characters. I’ve done it many, many times, and as I continue to write books, I figure out the opening chapter as I do my story outline.

But after you write the first chapter comes the hardest chapter to write. Chapter Number Two. What makes it hard? Because you have used up your thunder and excitement in the opening chapter. Now you have to get into the meat and potatoes of the story. Actually, chapters two, three and four pretty much go together. These often are pretty slow, simply because you need to establish the characters and the storyline. There’s a lot of homework that goes into these chapters, and you have to be able to do this without it becoming boring. How do you do it? By making the characters interesting. By establishing smaller, personal storylines that will get the reader interested in what’s going on. And have some events resolved a lot sooner than the final climax of the story.

Writing a novel isn’t easy. In fact, in the years while I was involved with my student writer’s group on campus, I would often have students come in, talking about how they want to write a book series, even though they hadn’t even written before. I always encourage beginning writers to start with short stories. Learn the craft before taking on a major undertaking like a novel. Writing a short story is a lot shorter commitment, you learn how to create characters, plotlines, dialogue and other basic necessities. Then you can graduate to a novel when you are ready.