novel writingWriting Fear Free

Writing Fear Free: The Dreaded First Line

Writing the first line of your novel can be frustrating,
but there’s no wrong way to do it. As far as I can tell,
there’s no error message for bad beginnings.

By this point in the Writing Fear Free process, you have already decided on your best writing venue. You have chosen your official writing time and stocked up on your inspirational beverages. You have spent a week writing–or not writing–your outline and doing your preliminary research.

Finally, it is time to start your novel.

You stare at the blank screen.

Having read that agents and publishers often decide whether or not to purchase a book based on the first page–or even the first line–you know how important your beginning is.

Talk about pressure.

You probably know what I’m about to say: the first line is another major stumbling block for fearful writers.

But the good news is that there are several ways to combat this problem.

1. Write the first thing that pops into your mind, no matter how trite or silly, with the intention of changing it later.

As a new writer, you are still developing your voice, and that adds another monkey wrench to cogs of your writing machine. You are in the process of figuring out what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. So you might as well accept from the beginning that you are going to create your voice with each word you write, and because of that, you are going to have to rewrite some early parts of the novel. In the editing phase, mind you. Not in the writing phase.

The important thing is to start writing. Here are some ideas: “It all began when….” “It was 2:30 AM and….” “It was a dark and stormy night….” Heck, even begin with “Once upon a time….” Just start. As you delve deeper into your novel, the perfect beginning will come as your voice develops.
2. Take a little time to decide on a decent beginning, with the intention of changing it later. If you opt for this technique, do not let the first page take longer than one day, preferably take only a couple hours. You must limit yourself, or you are creating a very large gap in your writing armor, and fear and doubt will inevitably find their way through. Just get the gist of it down and move on. Keep writing. Go back to the editing later.

3. Start somewhere else. If you already have a scene in your mind, start there and build outward from that.

I wrote the last scene of Charlotte Collins first, and the process worked so well for me that I also wrote the last scene of my mystery novel first. Maybe this won’t work for everyone, but as a person who reads magazines from back to front (I like to avoid the 842 pages of ads that come before the table of contents.), it was ideally suited to me. I knew exactly where my novel was headed on the day I began. There was no aimless wandering of plot bunnies or wondering where my story was ultimately headed. I knew already. The rest of my writing was focused on getting the characters to that point.

You may not have the last scene planned in your mind, and that’s OK. But likely, you have some scene or other already locked in your imagination. Start there, even if it’s smack in the center of your novel. It will become your target, and all your scenes will revolve around and lead to it.

No matter which option you choose, the most important aspect of getting started is actually writing something. It doesn’t have to be Pulitzer-worthy or even very good, it just has to be. The writing phase is your chance to make a joyful mess of your novel; the editing phase is where you transform that mess into the novel of your dreams.

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