Sunday, November 01, 2015

Ready, Set, Write!

8:00 AM Posted by Tara 2 comments
This is it. The moment we've all been waiting for. The sun has dawned on November 1. It is time to begin your 50,000-word adventure.

Welcome to week one!

Week one is often celebrated as the easiest. Endless possibilities stretch ahead of you, waiting to be discovered. Your imagination, finally unleashed, will pull you through your first chapters with the limitless energy of a kid at Disneyland. Your first 10,000 words will fly by in a blur of excitement and adrenaline. Magic flows freely through your fingertips.

But for some—like yours truly—week one is actually the hardest.

To me, there is nothing scarier about writing a novel than that first blank page. I have this great idea, a solid outline, compelling characters, a vivid setting. In my head, it's perfect. But on paper... it won't be. The reality of my novel will not live up to my expectations for it. It's hard to start writing a story when I'm worried that doing so will ruin it.

So while others are running rampant in the fields of their imagination, I struggle with the first line, the first page, the first few thousand words. It takes me a few days to let go of the perfect vision for my novel that I've nurtured for weeks, or even months, and give myself permission to write an imperfect story.

If you, too, have trouble finding your groove in week one, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Your opening line doesn't have to be perfect... yet.

There is nothing so important as a novel's opening line. It is your first—and possibly only—opportunity to hook a reader. It needs to spark curiosity, raise questions, establish your voice, give a glimpse of and set the tone for the adventure that lies ahead. That's a lot of weight for one line to bear. Is it any wonder that writing it is so intimidating?

But this is only your first draft! What matters now isn't that you get it right, but that you get it done. So don't waste your limited time on crafting the perfect opening line, paragraph, or page. Just write something, and move on. You'll have all the time in the world after November to spin that grain of sand into a pearl.

Remember: the worst opening line is the one that never gets written.

You don't have to start at the beginning.

There's no rule that says you must write your story in chronological order. If the beginning is proving too difficult, skip ahead to chapter two, or to a scene you've been imagining for weeks and you're excited to finally write, or even to the ending. Write whatever will get you writing. Once you get into the groove, you can go back and hammer out your first chapter—and since you're already familiar with your characters, you won't have to suffer through that awkward getting-to-know-you phase that so often besets first chapters.

You can take this strategy to a smaller scale, too: start a scene in the middle of the action. Forget the transition, the exposition, the establishing shot. Don't detail how your protagonist slept in and got to work late; jump right to the moment his furious boss calls him into his office. Action and dialogue are typically easier to write than description and exposition, so don't be afraid to jump ahead. You can fill in the blanks in later.

It will get easier.

Beginnings are usually about set-up. You need to introduce your characters, establish your setting, and lay the foundation for your inciting incident. This set-up is crucial, as it provides context for what is to come... but it must also be intriguing enough to hook your readers and keep them reading. It's a balancing act, and it's easy to drop the plates when you're running at the breakneck speed month-long noveling demands.

If Nanowrimo is a rollercoaster, the first few thousand words are the excruciating ascent—but once you crest the top, you'll start flying. Your story will suddenly get exciting, and you'll get excited about writing it. You'll look forward to writing your characters out of tough situations, and writing them into even worse ones. You'll pick up momentum, and ride it all the way to week two.

So if the first couple of days are overwhelming and you start second-guessing your decision to write a novel, don't give up! Just keep writing. It'll get better.

Keep calm and carry on

The prospect of 50,000 words looming ahead of you can be terrifying. But with every word you write, that number gets smaller, and you get closer to your goal. By the end of this week, you should have 11,669 words down, and only 38,331 to go. So don't let fear or doubt or insecurity get the better of you. You can do this! But hold on tight. It's going to be a wild ride.


  1. This has been the single most helpful post I've read today! :)

    1. Glad I could help! I'm trying to take my own advice, but my first thousand words are proving just as difficult as ever.