Around page 276 of my second book, I’ve fallen victim to the same snare that held me trapped in chapter one of Sense Memory. Ultimately, with Sense Memory, I was able to find that shining diamond of advice that allowed me to break free and get back to writing which led to the completion of my first novel. Now, once again, I’m ensnared. The troubling thing is…I know better.
It’s no secret among my friends and family and those who have read Sense Memory, that chapter one is a bit, well, awkward. There are even a few reviews that talk about how if you can just get past the weirdness that is the first chapter, the story picks up and is worth the read.
So, what is the trap that I fell into with that first chapter, and find myself snagged on yet again?
Skipping ahead in the writing process. I’ve jumped from the keyboard and into my brain. And that’s no way to write a first draft.
When I was writing Sense Memory, I spent hours, days, weeks…you get the idea…pouring over that first chapter, trying to get it perfect before moving on to the next. Even when I finally found myself in the middle of chapter five, I would go back and fix what I thought were problems in opening of my book. I was obsessed with getting right, always with the thought that if I did it right by fixing it from the beginning, there wouldn’t be a need for a third or fourth draft.
Now, that first chapter is the worst/strangest/most confusing part of the book.
I was lucky to find Stephen King’s On Writing at that point, and it turned out to be my saving grace. His advice on first drafts is the only reason I ever finished Sense Memory. Well, that and my wife threatening to beat me if I didn’t get that next chapter into her hands in a timely manner.
So here I am. Two hundred seventy-six pages into my next endeavor and I’m thinking things like…
- Have I given the protagonist a strong enough need?
- Am I taking too long to get to the point?
- Is the action/situation/description in X chapter necessary?
- Do I have superfluous characters that need to be cut?
- Should I be closer to the climax than I am at this point?
- Is my protag even likeable? Is he consistent?
- Is my style consistent?
- Is my dialogue believable?
- Am I a horrible writer???
What is the answer to these incessant, soul-crushing questions?
Who cares? It’s the first draft. Just write the stupid thing. Nobody has to read it until I let them. The first draft should be crappy and full of holes. If it isn’t, I didn’t do it right.
Maybe I should get a tattoo of the words Just Write It plastered across my forehead.
Alright. Enough self pep-talk at everyone else’s expense. Time to shut up the voice in my head and listen to my characters again.
Time to Go Write.