After all your brainstorming, all your research and planning and plotting and fretting, there is absolutely nothing in this world quite like the feeling of opening a blank page and setting down the first words of a new project.
Nothing like it.
It’s a natural high, one that makes you wonder why anyone would ever do drugs because this is so much cheaper and less debilitating. Not to mention, you know, legal. You open that blank page, and whether it’s a piece of paper or a Word document, there are entire worlds of potential there. You are the creator, you have ultimate power.
Well, as writers we try to tell ourselves that. Usually the story and characters end up taking over.
But still! From those very first words, you have the potential to captivate your audience. From the first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page, you can lure them in so thoroughly that they can’t leave your story until it’s done. Those first words are everything, they’re the things that will make an agent read on and maybe want more, make an editor interested, make a browser read more and want to take it home.
And it’s terrifying.
Because it’s a lot of pressure, isn’t it? Staring at that page, knowing your world and your characters as you do, all of that boundless potential before you, and you need to make it grand. You need to make it wow. It’s not just for the chances of publication and selling at that point- honestly, never worry about that until the first draft is done- but for you. Because these first lines set off the tone of the rest of the book. They’re what make YOU excited to keep going, the things that tell you how you’re doing and what the overall voice is. From the very first words.
There are all sorts of things dedicated to famous first lines in literature. I think even people who haven’t read A Tale of Two Cities can probably spout off most of the best/worst of times spiel. The thing is, though, they don’t remember it just because of the book, or because it’s Charles Dickens; not too many people can pop off the first line of Oliver Twist or Little Dorrit without having the book right there in front of them. It’s because that first line so thoroughly sets the stage for everything that follows, because that first line burns itself into our brains and doesn’t fade. It isn’t just significant, it’s compelling.
Which, again, is terrifying.
Because we want to create something that stands out. We want to create something compelling and captivating. Maybe we don’t want to be stuck shoving our books down hapless required reading lists for generations of students to loathe on principle, but we want to be remembered. When someone is browsing through a bookstore glancing at first pages, we want ours to be the one that stands out, and you do that with the first words.
Obviously It was a dark and stormy night isn’t going to work. You want your first words to be original, to have strength, to not make someone roll their eyes and say “Oh my God, what a cliche” and put it down.
That still leaves a lot of room. Do you start with dialogue? Do you hurtle us right into action? Do we set the scene? Do we present a character? So many possibilities, so many things running through your head as you stare at that blank page, and suddenly it can all seem overwhelming. Take a deep breath. Don’t Panic.
This is your world, your story, and you are the only one who knows how to tell it. So tell it. Take the plunge and spill the ink onto the paper or splash the pixels across the screen and just write.
I got to start a new project yesterday and I’m still over the moon about it. Typing in those first words, even though I’ve known what they were since before I even started the planning, was such a high. Because that means I’ve started! I’m on my way! I have the entire world spread out before me and I’m the one that gets to shape it into words. In a way, I get to play God. How often does that get to happen?
And it starts with those first words.
So take a deep breath.
Let those first words spill out.
Then let them carry you all the way through to the last.
Until next time~