Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

The Hardest Part of Writing the First Draft

The Hardest Part of Writing the First Draft

No one can deny that writing a first draft is a difficult, oftentimes painful experience. In spite of the fact that many authors consider it to be their favorite part of the process (and almost all prefer it over the dreaded editing), it’s not only pleasurable, it is necessary—which always means it will be hard.

Yet even through the long, sleepless nights, the lips chapped and bleeding from chewing on them (I’m guilty of this one, I’m afraid) and the worry about writing a reasonable climax, there is one thing that claims highest on the list of difficult things.

That, with no contest, is starting the novel.

Some novels start easily. IOTW originally started because I was curious as to what the NaNo Young Writer Program would suggest as my word count goal, so I started typing a random story in a browser on my sister’s computer. Somehow, a one-hundred thousand novel was born out of that. Strong, a novel from a few years ago, didn’t start too well; nor did Prince’s Rose, or Joy of Stars, all of which I had to start over several times on that first night of writing. Sometimes novels start easily, but sometimes—nay, usually, they are difficult to start.

We have to start the novel to go anywhere with it. People come up with bizarre ways of trying to get around the nervousness of beginning a novelnot the least of which ranked in oddity being starting in the middle and then going back to fill in the beginning later. I would think that my brain would die from such a lack of continuity that would result from that—but, worse, some people just give into the nervous, vaguely sick feeling in the pit of their stomach, and they never start what would be a brilliant story.

The truth is that there is only one way to remove this obstacle from your path. That way is to sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard, and start typing. You will have to fight your way through the nerves, for there is no way around them. There is only once chance, and that is to start, and start now. 

Yes, you may delete it. Yes, you may hate it. Yes, it may be horrible. My first few sentences of Prince’s Rose that I discarded ranged from being nightmare-inducing to a Grammar-Nazi to just plain confusing (“Wait… Was the floor creaking? Or was that the clock? Well, something’s ticking, so that must be the clock… Would that make it the floor creaking? All on its own?). It didn’t really matter, though, for those sentences, removed or not, gave me a springboard into the story. When I eventually settled on my final first sentence, I was ready to write the story, and my nerves had subsided.

You will most likely end up cringing at your first sentence at some point, maybe even cringing at the one you decided to keep. But as long as that first sentence is down and being followed by more words, it doesn’t matter, because you will have gotten through the hardest part of writing a novel.

One million miles,

It starts with a step or two.

(Michael W. Smith)

Just start. Take the first step, and write the novel. From this point on, you’re on the journey—it may be hard, but you’re well on your way to victory.

What have been your experiences with starting novels? Any first sentences that you would like to share? (If you share yours, I’ll share mine!)

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14 thoughts on “The Hardest Part of Writing the First Draft

  1. Well, the prologue for Moonscript has always been pretty stable, but the several chapters after that have gone through several drafts, with more on the way!

    But here’s the opening sentence for the prologue.

    “A black wind crossed over the moon.”

    Okay, now you have to share yours! You promised!

    • Come to think of it, prologues tend to be more stable than the first chapter… Maybe because the writer usually starts them with more of a burst of inspiration? Do you expect to re-draft your novel entirely, or just the first few chapters?
      Your first sentence sounds very good! It carries a lot of mood in it. My first sentence for Prince’s Rose (not counting the prologue) is,
      “The train carried a light dusting of snow into a town set in the middle of autumn.”

  2. The starts of novels are really difficult to write because it’s so overwhelming thinking about how much more of the story you have to write, and it’s so much easier to just not start at all. I know that’s the way I feel. Endings are pretty hard, too, because you just wan tot be done with writing the first draft, but at the same time a lot of thought has to go into the ending because it is the final impression that the reader gets. Ugh. Really all of novel drafting is difficult.

    • Yes… With both of those. :p I find the climax to be particularly difficult for the same reasons you mentioned for the ending; it’s one of the last parts the reader will see, and it brings everything together.

  3. Oh yeah, the beginning of my only finished novel is horrid. I have started a novella thing, and I think that beginning may be a little better, because I am writing it in a fairy-tale style. Here is my first sentence: The sun shone cheerfully down, and white fluffy clouds strewed themselves across the deep blue sky.
    Cheesy, I know. x)

    • As I have to keep reminding myself, that’s what editing is for, right?
      Ooh, fairy-tales are a lot of fun. I can definitely see that style in your first sentence! 🙂

  4. Beginnings are actually fun (sometimes). Endings are tougher, I find. I like to start with a bang, and so I want to end with a bang as well, but by that time I’ve used most of my dynamite. (I like ‘xplosions)

  5. Great post, Athelas! Beginnings are definitely a struggle for me and usually require rewriting. Even with my essays in school, I’d often create a concluding paragraph that would have been a better intro, but my actual intro wasn’t great, because I didn’t know quite what I was saying until the end. Same with stories. I often use the first few chapters to get a handle on what my story is going to feel like, so the beginning and end of a first draft often vary drastically different in tone. My advice, personally, is to put something down to get your story rolling, and then, when you have a better grasp on said story, go back and rewrite it.

    The beginning of my recent project is this: “In less than six months, I’ll be dead.”

  6. Beginnings are very hard for me… But I’ve never gotten to editing, so I don’t have much to complain about, I gather. 😛
    My first sentence for the novel I am currently writing is, “She stared at the nearly-full moon overhead, pulling her blanket tighter around herself.”
    (Actually, there is a name, but I replaced it with “she” on here.)

    • I still haven’t finished editing my first novel, so I can’t really say… Ask me about six months after I’m done.
      You have a very good mood in your beginning; that’s always a good thing in first sentences. 🙂

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