So you’ve been writing short stories and poems since you were in kindergarten. Your laptop is littered with fifteen first chapters for fifteen different novel ideas. What’s the difference between you and those authors who have fifteen complete novels?
The writing process is different for everyone, of course, but here are a few things that made the difference for me:
1. Not knowing your characters
Your characters can (and will!) change over the course of the novel whether you mean for them to or not. That’s just how writing works. Don’t panic if your character starts the novel performing electric guitar solos in front of thousands of people and finishes curled up in bed, holding a cup of coffee and humming Vivaldi. (Not that those two things are mutually exclusive. I personally find anyone who can bang out Mozart on electric guitar disturbingly attractive.) That just means that you’re figuring out what character best fits your story.
However, that doesn‘t mean you can start a novel without having some idea of who your main character is. Not knowing your characters can lead to writer’s block very, very quickly. Writing becomes exhausting when you’re hitting a character with event after event who doesn’t have a fleshed out personality to anchor him or her to your story and to nudge him or her forward.
How to fix this? Write out a list of traits and quirks your character has. Write a short story in a different format than your novel will be in (first person instead of third, modern-day instead of 1912). Experiment with your character by hitting him or her with events and see how he or she reacts. Do you like your character? Is he or she interesting? Is there room for growth? Are you willing to spend the next 80,000 words with him or her? If not, fix it. If so, great! Let’s move on!
2. Obsessing over the first chapter
You want your first chapter to be perfect. And it can be perfect. Just not right now.
This got me the first few times I tried my hand at a novel. I don’t know how many times I rewrote the first chapter.
Repeat after me: STOP.
Your first chapter for your first draft is a placeholder. That is all. You don’t fully know your story or your characters or what the heck you’re supposed to foreshadow. It’s impossible for your first chapter to be perfect right now. In fact, it’s probably going to be downright trash.
And that’s okay.
Just go on to the second chapter.
To be continued. À plus tard!