Writing the first page of your book will be the hardest part of the whole project, surmounting even line edits. It may even be worse than writing the blurb for the back of the cover! So what do you do when you have an idea but can’t get started?
First, you’ll need to get started anyway. If you plot, spend time creating your outline. It will help the creativity to flow and hold your mind in the game. Take notes along the way. Don’t just write up a skeletal-chalk-drawing that will be indecipherable later. Sometimes, when we’ve stepped out of the moment, context is lost, meaning fades, and we’re left confused and lost in a wilderness. Those notes are going to be mighty useful! This could also be the point you realize you didn’t have anything after all. But, that’s a good thing! You can file your notes and come back when you do have it! This way, you’re free to pursue another project on your check list.
If you’re still keen on writing, just start. It doesn’t matter if you feel that the scenes in your head come much later. Write them. This is where your brain needs to start. It may feel chaotic, but it won’t matter in the end, because you’ll have to go back many times. In those times, you’ll come up with new ideas. Linear storytelling isn’t necessary. What will inspire the rest of the story is sure to come during this writing period as well as future phases.
Bottom line: just write. No matter how terrible.
When you have a substantial draft prepared, or perhaps the whole thing has shaped up, go back to that first page and review it. Now is when you have most of the story down, and are likely so immersed that writing the introduction will be far easier. It’s a bonus if you gave it a try already. A few things to keep in mind: don’t be married to what you put down. It may need major overhauling. You will edit the first paragraphs relentlessly. Don’t give up if it doesn’t shape up in a couple tries. Ask others for help. Survey readers, colleagues, friends, and family.
What you’re looking for is to hook readers in about 5 lines, without being verbose or falling into cliche. You will establish: point of view, setting, character, and so on. the next four or five lines should cement the contract between you and your reader. It’s a pitch and reward. Don’t keep pitching, unless unavoidable. No one likes a commercial. Everyone wants you to get on with the program.
To better understand, view the first couple of paragraphs as your love letter to the would be reader you’re courting. If you’re not willing to give it your all, then don’t expect the reader to invest time in you. It’s like any other relationship: give and take must be fair. If you’re not writing it for them, then I am not sure why you’re bothering to pursue publication, as that’s the point of getting into print and making all this fuss. If you’re not publishing, then none of this matters. You can do whatever you want and squirrel it away.
That brings me to one of the most important lessons a writer needs to learn to have success in today’s world. Drop the ego. Certainly this is your work and you should have direction over it. However, allowing your ego to become an obstacle to your goal is a serious problem. Not only can the ego alienate the connections you make, it can make getting the business of writing done improbable. The work will only be that much harder and it will not be as fulfilling. A tough ego can alienate those you need to work with to get your project finished, such as agents, editors, and publishers, not to mention readers. The ego can also do substantial damage to your psyche (yes, even though it’s part of it). That can leave you depressed and hating the job.
Setting your ego aside allows you to spot flaws in the work. It also assists you in writing the first page that you need in order to attract readers, and it will retain a community around you. They are your readers and your resource. Be charitable. You can still remain separate, if you are shy. You can still be firm if you must. Kindness and humility are fantastic attributes, and highly prized.
Learn to recognize when your ego is crowding out the things you need, and learn how to keep it well under control.
Now, about writing that love letter…
The first page may not take shape for several drafts. If you drew out the first draft of Blue Honor and compared it to the published edition, you’d see vastly different pages. Hammering out just the right words takes patience and perseverance. Massage the paragraphs and shape them with each edit. Stop watching the clock because you set a deadline for publication. Don’t do that to yourself or the work. Allow the work to rise in the time that it takes. (Now, I’m not saying that procrastinating is a good idea either.) Set realistic goals to meet. Take care of yourself, because you are the tool you’re using to manage and implement your skill.
Some tips to help:
1. Write. Just start.
2. Come back to it later when you have more to work with and are better immersed.
3. Edit several drafts.
4. This is a love letter to win the hearts of your intended audience.
5. Ego check.
6. Edit again!
7. Have peers and readers review the introduction and provide feedback. (You could send it out on your newsletter, in Facebook groups, and use a survey to frame focus the answers.)
8. Let an editor have at it. Then look again.
9. Let it rest for a month or more, and have a final look.
These steps can also apply to your book blurb. If you thought page 1 was hard, just wait until you tackle the dreaded back of the book blurb!