Research done, outline completed, idea germinated . . . whatever it takes, you start to write. One question that comes up often is how “perfect” does each sentence need to be when you first start writing.
For starters, don’t fret about how you start your novel. While the first sentence is critical in a finished work, as is the first paragraph – these are often what hooks a reader into continuing to read your work – your first sentence and first paragraph are most often changed, tweaked or eliminated when you actually start writing.
But wait, you are already writing. You’ve written a first sentence, a first paragraph and then a chapter. You’ve strung a boatload of chapters together into a compelling story. Not so fast. A first draft of a story or novel is not writing. For sure, it encompasses the writing process, but it is not writing. It records words.
“Writing,” to quote a mentor of mine, John Bowers, “is rewriting.” It is not until you pour over your words and paragraphs and chapters many times, are you writing. This is when you edit, embellish, tweak, fix, expand, and do so much more to improve your work. You may find that by the time you get to the end of your story, the beginning no longer works. While you wrote the words, you should not own them. Be prepared to toss them if they don’t enhance the story. When it comes to beginnings, your words are most important and need to be just right, so do whatever is necessary to make them your best.
“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”
—Joyce Carol Oates, April 1986
This says it all. If a writer accepts Ms. Oates’s dictum, them those first words penned at first onset are not that important, so don’t get bogged down on them. Rather, get your story going. Once you have reached the ending, you return to the beginning (give your story a rest for a few weeks before doing this) because now you have a better sense of what the beginning needs. You may keep those first words you wrote, but now you are sure they work. Or, you may choose another path. Regardless of what you do at this point, you have evolved from writing to becoming a writer.
How do you start a new work? I would love to hear about your writing experiences.