Fear holds a lot of writers back from getting their work into the world, and when you’re writing a book the fear of the first chapter can stop you in your tracks.
Much of this fear comes from pressure for the first chapter to be perfect. It is drilled into us that first impressions are everything, especially when it means keeping your manuscript out of the slush pile.
But if you don’t get started, you’ll never get going. So here are a few tips for pushing past the fear of failure and writing your first chapter.
Before the First Word
Think about your concept. No matter where it came from: based on a real event, in a dream, a fairy story, your imagination, whatever, you will need to flesh it out a bit and think about where it is going. Do some research into the area, and allow your concept to morph as it takes shape.
Coming up with the plot is the most difficult part, because our ideas change and grow all the time. But if you do a little planning on your structure and develop your characters, the shape of your novel will began to reveal itself. And doing this beforehand will make the actual writing process easier.
Putting Pen to Paper
From all your planning, the obvious place to start should present itself. Try not to overthink it – just start writing and see where it takes you. If you hit a dead end, don’t panic. Back up a bit a try again, or put it in a draw for a while and then come back to it with fresh eyes.
Personally, I have found giving my ideas time to marinade really helps my process. I reworked my plot, my world, some of my characters, and prepared to take that leap into a new first chapter.
There is a lot of advice out there about right/wrong ways to start a book. My advice is: just start writing. If you’ve got off on the wrong foot, the book will tell you. Sure, it may set you back a little, but you’ll learn from that experience and your novel will be better for it.
Think about how your favourite books and films start. Do they jump right into the acton, or is there some breathing space before the story begins? If you can imagine an intriguing scene that doesn’t give the game away, you’re on the right track.
Don’t let the pressure of publishers, agents, or readers intimidate you. First chapters are scary and exciting (like the first summertime leap into a swimming pool) but the great thing about words is that you can change them.
The revision and editing processes are so long that chances are, your first chapter will transform many times from your first version of it. We revise for a reason, so don’t stress about the minor things just yet.
Although it can be hard figuring out where and how to start, the re-starting of my draft made me realise that the little things don’t matter (yet) and that first drafts never come out perfectly polished the first go.
My biggest lesson: don’t try to write the perfect first draft, because it’s like a unicorn – it only exists in my imagination.
It doesn’t matter that a chapter feels stale, or that the wording for some descriptions aren’t quite right, or that your tense keeps shifting.
Words are flexible: they can be edited, moved around, deleted, and swapped. Just get yourself past the first hurdle and keep pushing forward.
What’s important is that you write, not hide behind the fear that your first chapter may not be entirely perfect just yet.