Starting a novel is hard. You dream about it. You promise yourself, your partner, your children, and your pets that you’ll start, but the cursor keeps blinking on a blank page. The outline is done. Every character has five pages of notes and backstory to flesh out their personalities. You have everything you need. You just can’t seem to start. Here are a few ways to beat the inner editor and overcome your writerly angst so you can finally start that novel.
Start in the Middle
This is one of my favorite tricks, because I don’t feel comfortable introducing characters I’ve yet to actually write. Begin writing in the middle, when all the messy introductions and overviews are out of the way. It’s just characters, dialogue, and action. The pressure is off, and the writing is on.
Write Three Scenes with Different POVs
You may struggle to write that first chapter because you haven’t nailed down your POV. Write three short, simple scenes with three different points of view. Maybe you switch characters to see whose thoughts offer the best narration, or maybe you play with different distances as the narrator. Are you going with first person or third? Give your story a chance to speak, and it will tell you which POV is best.
Start with the Second Chapter
The opening lines of a novel can make or break it for the audience. That is a huge burden, and it’s one you don’t need to deal with right now. This really goes for the entire first chapter. If you have a good outline and you know what’s happening, you can just skip the intro and come back to it later.
There are actually some practical benefits to this, too. You get to see what characterization evolves in the following chapters – so you know what you don’t need to bother explaining or featuring in those critical opening scenes. Even if you aren’t sure what the first chapter should or will eventually feature, tell yourself that you’re starting with the second chapter. Throw in a note about some hook scene or intro that you’ll write later just to trick yourself. The best first chapters are often written as the second or third, anyway.
Write Somewhere New
From writing naked to keeping a special pen, authors have invented many strange ways to spark their muse over the centuries. A simple way to reroute and distract your inner editor is to pick up and move somewhere else – not your whole house, just your writing tools! Go to the coffeeshop, the park, or just a different room. It’s simple, effective, and will help you break through those first few pages.
Of course, the most important part of starting a novel is to actually sit down and put your fingers on the keyboard. You will never build up to a book if you don’t build it a word at a time. The first words don’t have to be great. They don’t even have to be good. You just need to get them on the page so you can keep moving forward.