When you’re writing final draft you’re crafting sentences, refining scenes, tweaking characters, sometimes tightening structure. It’s all about refinement. You’re living in your novel by that point. You’re comfortable. You’re excited. Each change seems to help. You know what you’re doing.
Now, of course, you may be wrong. Writers delude themselves all the time. We need this delusion to keep writing. We need to believe we’re writing something well. But whether you’re right about the feeling or not, those final moments of the final draft are pleasant. You’ve made it to your destination or close. Not as perfect as you imagined it. Never that. It was always a bit better in your imagination than you could do.
And then a day or week or whatever later you start the next novel. And it’s a bloody mess. Did you ever really know how to write a novel? How could you possibly have finished one in the first place? You know nothing. You can’t even write a decent sentence or if you do write one the next one sucks. Characters are as thin as a paper. And where are you going? You’re wandering like a drunk failing a sobriety test. You think, Lock me up, please! Get me away from this!
BUT “this” was how you began the last novel, too. Writing in the dark, stumbling and fumbling about, trying to find your way. One of the reasons it’s so hard to go from the last stages of a novel to the first stages of the next is the memory of those last stages is clearest in our minds. You yearn, if you’re like me, for the relative clarity and precision of the last work when you were at the last of it. But you have to put that out of your mind. Writing a first draft is a different experience. It has other pleasures, like the pleasures of discovery. Enjoy those. There will be plenty of time for all the refinements later.