Welcome to Part 2 of my Inception to Completion series, which will guide you through the entire novel-writing process from beginning to end. In Part 1 we discussed how my personal outlining method has helped me complete six 80-100k-word manuscripts over the years (as well as two novellas and countless ghostwriting projects).
While Part 1 covered a bit about writing your first chapter, this post will delve deep into the anxiety that stands between many would-be writers and getting words down on the first page of the actual book. Even once you’re equipped with your overarching and chapter outlines, it can be scary taking that first plunge into the real story.
Here are some tips and tricks that have helped me crack the surface into that first chapter.
Fun with Fonts
Some people might say that toying with fonts is just a form of stalling. It’s also unnecessary, since the fonts you choose will almost definitely change by the time you reach the publishing stage.
Those people wouldn’t exactly be wrong. But while I do tend to leave the body of my story in Times New Roman, 12-pt font (a preferred font and size of both literary agents and book formatters), I always give myself some time to play with the font of my title page and chapter titles.
Something about this little ritual always helps to give me an idea of the sort of story I want to tell. With my first novel, Viable, I went with Copperplate Gothic Bold since to me it represented both the stark hardness of the book’s world and my main character’s strength. Meanwhile, for Vita and the Monsters of Moorhouse I chose something totally different—Curlz MT. I felt that this font captured the creepiness and the whimsicality of the story quite well. One of these fonts made it to the final published manuscript while the other didn’t, but both helped me to sink into the moods of these novels.
This step may seem like a waste of time—and it may prove to be one if you don’t get as excited about fonts as I do. But it could be worth at least trying out; you never know what you might discover about your book if you do.
Something else that always has the power to calm me down in the face of a first chapter is making folders. It gives me a sense of control—I know it’s a false one since the story is going to do what it wants once I start writing, but it still makes me feel better.
On my PC I have a Writing folder where I keep all of my novel-writing-related folders. When I am at the Chapter One phase of writing, that’s when the story gets its own folder. Over time I create folders within that folder (folders with names like Outlines, Cuts, Rewrites, etc.), and sometimes I even end up nesting folders within the nested folders.
For me, this organizing process is both comforting and extremely useful down the line. Writing a novel is a lot less stressful when you’re not trying to sort through a jumble of disorganized files.
If you ever took a typing or computer class, one of the pivotal lessons was learning to look at the computer screen rather than at the keyboard. Well, I was always pretty terrible at typing, so I’ve never really grown out of looking down at the keyboard.
Weirdly enough, this “bad” habit has proven very helpful over the years. One of the biggest hurdles for my writer friends has been that they constantly feel the need to edit each line they write. This stalls their progress considerably—especially when they are attempting to get down those nerve-wracking first lines. Whereas when I write, I’m looking at the keys rather than the screen. As a result, I don’t end up reading what I write as I write it. It makes it easier not to nitpick as I go.
I know typing this way may anger your old computer teachers. But if getting too critical as you write is an issue for you, this practice might be able to help. If you want to save your neck (and are a much better typist than I am), you can try closing your eyes or wearing a blindfold as you type.
I know I was just talking about all the stress involved in writing your first chapter. But at the end of the day, it’s really not worth worrying too much about. I can tell you from experience that your first chapter is almost definitely going to change. Both my published books have totally different first chapters than they started out with, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my other manuscripts endure the same fate by the time I publish them.
So just take a deep breath and get going. Remind yourself of what you love about your story, and do your best to bring it to life. Never forget to enjoy yourself. Writing is hard work, yes, and it can also be scary. But for real writers it is also one of the truest sources of joy that you will ever find.
Stop by next week for advice on what to do when you hit an inevitable wall in your story and can’t figure out how to move forward.