The truth is, ten times as many books were begun as made it to the 50,000 word mark. The reality sets in within the first week. Last year 70 writers in our region never got more than 5,000 words written.
Good first lines are critical. They have a singular duty, to involve the reader and kidnap them for the length of the book. But sometimes, the first lines are all an author has.
I know someone who began writing a novel they were exceedingly passionate about several years ago. But the first lines, introducing the characters, and the first few chapters were all that was ever written.
Yet the author of those few chapters speaks of their barely-begun book with enthusiasm as if they could pick it up and finish it any moment. When they talk about this book, it sounds so interesting; something I would love to read.
I confess I’ve become a little cynical when they talk about their plot and characters because I fear that talk is all that will ever happen. They have the entire book locked in their heads, and no one else will ever read it.
They have been stopped at the end of chapter three for five years. If they haven’t developed the discipline to dedicate an hour a day to writing by now, it’s very likely their book will never be completed.
Why does their book languish unwritten? Drama in their lives keeps them too busy to write. Once in a great while, when they’re bored and can’t find a book they want to read, they will open the file and read it. They will fall back in love with the words they have already written and talk about how they’re going to sit down and finish it someday.
But that won’t happen unless they make the time to do it.
We all have drama in our lives. For me, writing keeps the drama at arm’s length.
Participating in NaNoWriMo teaches authors discipline. You learn to write the entire book before you begin editing.
In your first draft, I recommend that you don’t spend too much time obsessing about the small things and the finer details as these will derail your work. You will never get past the first chapter if all you can focus on is writing a brilliant opener.
NaNoWriMo gives us the discipline to write the entire story as quickly as we can, at least 1,667 words a day. Once you have the entire structure of the novel laid down on paper, you won’t be left wondering where to go next, writing and rewriting the same first chapter.
When the entire story has been written, that is the time to worry about prose and phrasing. The second draft is when we write the words we would want to read.
The second draft is when you should obsess about the opening line and first paragraphs.
If you are serious about writing, it’s necessary to read, to see how other authors begin and complete their work. It is good to read works published in your chosen genre, but to become an educated reader/author, you should look outside your favorite genre. You might find books that surprise you. You will be amazed at how much some of what you read in these new genres resonates with you even if you didn’t like the book.
This education doesn’t have to be expensive. Don’t spend your precious book purchasing funds on books you believe you won’t enjoy. Do a little advance research via the internet and then borrow the books from the library.
Grand ideas about what you intend to write mean nothing if you don’t finish the job.
Do finish writing the story before you begin rewriting the first chapter.
If all you have ever written is the first chapter…over…and over…and over…, perhaps you need to set that idea aside. It may be that, at this point in your life, writing isn’t your passion, but reading is.
And without readers, there would be no need for authors.