Your First Chapter: Getting Past the Fear

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 our tips for pushing past the fear of failure and writing your first chapter.

Before the First Word

The initial concept of my work-in-progress came to me in a dream (such a cliché , but it's true!) so there were many months spent trying to turn a wacky dream into something readable. For some ideas on where to start with your work, check out this article.

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I did some research into eye-witness reports and ancient mythologies, and my concept morphed so many times I lost count.

Coming up with the plot was the most difficult part, because our ideas change and grow all the time. But by planning a structure and developing characters, the shape of my first chapter (even my first line) began to reveal itself.

Putting Pen to Paper

Chapter One

The first chapter... one of the most daunting experiences for a new writer.
Image Credit: Kyra Bandte

From all my planning, I had an idea of the scene I wanted to start with. I wrote my first chapter (around 3,500 words) and got almost 10,000 words into the book when I lost interest and scrapped the whole thing (well, stashed it away in a Word document).

This was the biggest blow to my confidence and a huge setback in terms of motivation.

I let the work go for a few months and came back to it with fresh eyes and new ideas. I reworked my plot, my world, some of my characters, and prepared to take that leap into a new first chapter.

Advice

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 writing of it. We revise for a reason, so don't stress about minor things just yet.

In Retrospect

Although things were dire for a few months, 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. I'm only three chapters in but I've learned so much already.

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. What's important is that you get past the first hurdle and push forward.

What's important is that you write, not hide behind the fear that your first chapter may not be entirely perfect just yet.