Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Write Your First Chapter if You Hate Writing First Chapters

I hate first chapters. Like...hate them. When I started writing my first book, it took me an entire summer to finally get through the first chapter.
And why did it take me so long? A lot of reasons, actually. Fear, doubt, frustration, and uncertainty are just a few of them.
The first chapter scared me because I felt like I needed to make it absolutely perfect. The first line had to be intriguing and the first page needed to be enough to make the reader want more. I read the first pages of nearly every book on my shelf and scanned hundreds of articles online, searching for anything at all that could help make my writing better.
But no matter what I did or how many times I restarted, my first chapter just didn't feel right.
And if I couldn't write my first chapter, how in the world was I going to write the entire rest of my book?
I stressed about this for weeks as I repeated the process of opening a word document, typing out the chapter, then deleting the whole thing and starting over. The story idea for this book had me gripped so tight that I knew there was no way in the world I could just give up and not write it, but oh did I want to give up.
Thankfully, I didn't, and now I've finished that book as well as the first draft of its sequel. And while first chapters are still not my favorite things to write, I've at least figured out a good way to get them done quick and easy, and not over the course of an entire summer.


1. Breathe. It took me weeks to learn this, but as intimidating as it may seem, first chapters are not something to get worked up over. This is the first few pages of the first draft. That means you can go back and edit it later, which means it absolutely does not have to be perfect right now. It just has to be written.
2. Focus on the first sentence. When I write first chapters, the main thing I focus on is the opening line. This is the first thing the reader is going to see, so it needs to be something that will suck them into the story. There's no point in putting all your energy into the middle of the first chapter if your opening line isn't enough to make readers read more. And again, this is the first draft of many. Focus on the first line and polish everything else later.
3. Get the words down. It doesn't matter if you write it slowly over a few days or word vomit it all in an hour--just get the words down. When I wrote the first chapter of my second book, I just kept typing. I forced myself to focus on what my main character was trying to say, and I just let her talk. I knew I could go back and edit later, and keeping that mindset helped me to whip out the first chapter in a few hours rather than a few months.
4. Look back if you have to. And yes, I said look back. I've read countless articles advising to not look back when writing, but to this day I just can't do it. Even now as I write this blog I'm constantly backspacing or rereading what I've just written to see how it sounds, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. If you're working on your first chapter and need to reread the last few sentences you've just written, no big deal. However, if you're three pages in and you suddenly feel the need to stop and scroll all the way back to page one and read everything you've written, try not to. Not only is that a big distraction, but it also tempts you to edit before you've finished the entire chapter, which is generally viewed as a big no-no. Small re-reads are fine, but big ones are not. Save those for later.
5. Finish and let it sit. Once you finish the first chapter, don't reread it right away. That's part of the reason why I couldn't get through my first chapter of my book--I kept writing, reading, and deleting. Reading the whole thing over again once you've just written it is pretty much giving yourself the opportunity to hate it and try to start over again. Don't! Just let it sit and either move on to the next chapter or do something else. I prefer to let the first chapter sit for a few days, but let's be honest--sometimes I can only stand letting it sit for a few hours before I read it over again.
6. Let someone you trust read it. This is the step that truly helped me conquer my fear of first chapters. When I finally let someone else read it, I was able to receive feedback that helped me continue writing the book. Make sure it's someone you trust with your writing, like a close friend or sibling or parent. In my case, I had my mom read my first chapter, and she adored it. She encouraged me to not change anything and move on to chapter two, and so I did. And then I had her read that, and when she gave me her honest feedback and let me know that some of the parts in that chapter were slow, I fixed them. And now here I am with a completed manuscript!

First chapters are scary simply because they are the beginning, and a lot of the time, beginnings can be frightening or intimidating. The first chapter is what opens up your world and story, and writing it is usually what allows you to see whether or not the story is worth writing. It may be scary or frustrating at first, but keep in mind that no matter what, it doesn't have to be perfect--it just has to be written. So whether you're intimidated, scared, frustrated, or just really hate first chapters like I do, don't give up. Keep writing, and soon enough you'll have a finished manuscript.

"Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him." James 1:12

10 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for this post. I definitely spent way too much time writing first chapters and deleting them. Its nice to know I'm not alone lol. Now I will breathe and go write my first chapter and let it sit ... lol

    www.bevirtue.com

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    1. Aw, no problem! It's nice to know I'm not alone, too. Good luck with your chapter! :)

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  2. I actually find it easy to write first chapters (I use pen and paper btw), but its always me just not developing the characters in time for certain parts of the story, or I just don't feel the feelings you're supposed to have while writing. Right now, I have about 3 or 4 rough drafts of first chapters that I couldn't get into.I have a lot more unfinished ideas and prompts that I just never finish because they just don't feel right to be writing. I am currently finishing a story I started a few months ago and I'm in the middle of another book of mine, which is super long. Sorry for ranting here.

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  3. For me, it's not that I hate the first chapter, it's that I don't know where to start the book. I've got so many other ideas, that the first chapter always seems rushed, or stiff (if that makes sense). I can't figure out how to change that.

    Also, I've noticed that it helps when you think you've done an awful job on the first chapter, to leave and come back later. Go take a walk, or read or something, and come back with fresh eyes. I find that it's easier to notice exactly what is wrong then.

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    1. I have had the same problem with the chapter seeming rushed or stiff. I've found that outlining is a tremendous help. It sees that the events aren't rushed, because you know Event A has to happen before Event B. However, it also helps ensure things aren't stiff, because you can make sure to add in events that are relevant to the overall novel, even if they seem inconsequential to the reader at the time. It also allows you to hide little tidbits here and there, then hit the reader with a ta-dah! moment without them feeling blindsided. For me, knowing something the reader doesn't keeps what I'm writing fresh and interesting, so it's not a "copy-and-paste" sentence structure.

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  4. This is great advice, thanks!

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  5. I have had the same problem with the chapter seeming rushed or stiff. I've found that outlining is a tremendous help. It sees that the events aren't rushed, because you know Event A has to happen before Event B. However, it also helps ensure things aren't stiff, because you can make sure to add in events that are relevant to the overall novel, even if they seem inconsequential to the reader at the time. It also allows you to hide little tidbits here and there, then hit the reader with a ta-dah! moment without them feeling blindsided. For me, knowing something the reader doesn't keeps what I'm writing fresh and interesting, so it's not a "copy-and-paste" sentence structure.

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  6. Nice post! I hate first chapters, too. Your idea to just keep writing is the best (even though sometimes that's the hardest thing to do).

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  7. Wonderful post! I went on pinterest specifically looking for a good blog post about first chapters and yours fit the bill! I must ask, what is the title of your published book so I can look it up? :)

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    1. Thank you! And I am actually an unpublished writer. I've been published in a few poetry collections but that's it so far! The novel I'm working on is still going through major rewrites, but after it's fully finished I plan to pursue publication. If you want to check out some of my writing, though, I have an account on Wattpad located under the "Find Me" page up top! :)

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