I’ve rewritten the beginning of my book at least ten times.
In her book, Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott says you’ll restart periodically because, each time, you’ll discover new details about your story and characters.
However, that’s not what I was doing. Restarting was becoming a problem. I wouldn’t give myself a chance to uncover mistakes; I would declare that my writing was terrible and go back to the beginning.
I couldn’t get passed the start. My writing process had become tiring, like when you listen to the same song five times in a row.
I decided enough was enough. I wanted to complete my novel, and that wasn’t going to happen unless I managed to get past the first five pages.
With (yet another) idea for how my novel should start, I wrote. This time, however, I continued. It’s been about two weeks since I made that choice, and I haven’t stopped.
Is it perfect? Not even close.
I made notes of how the beginning can improve, so I know I have to go back and rewrite later, just as Anna Lamott said. However, this time is different. This isn’t about being insecure. These are real mistakes I allowed myself to uncover.
I’ve opened the door to new details about my characters, setting, plot, and more. That wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t given myself the chance to write further.
If you find yourself in this position — so insecure about your writing that you stick to the beginning — here’s why you should move on.
1. There will be more flaws
You’re writing the first draft of your book. First drafts have plot holes, spelling mistakes, and inaccurate character descriptions.
If you’ve written a flawed beginning, it’s not because you don’t know how to write a good story. (Okay, maybe a little.) The issue is you’re still trying to figure out what the hell you’re writing in the first place.
This is a messy journey that will help you reveal your story. You need to embrace the mayhem.
The truth? You probably won’t realize how to start your novel until halfway into your story. Hell, you might even recognize that the halfway point is the beginning.
You can write the opening of your book twenty times, and each time, you will find reasons to start again. Stop looking for flaws because you will find them.
2. No one’s going to read your first draft
I was guilty of forgetting this. I’d throw in a cliché metaphor, and then guiltily erase it because I didn’t want people to think I was unoriginal. I’d write a bad scene and delete it because I swear I’m not a shit writer.
But no one will read what you’re writing right now, so why erase any words at all?
The purpose of the first draft is not to get it right, but to get it written. — John Dufresne
Keep those clichés, the bad dialogue, and all the lazy writing. You’re the only one who’s going to read. Remember: you can edit it out later.
You can destroy the crap you write in the second draft. So, don’t worry about your bad beginning. No one will have a chance to read it anyway.
3. You can’t let your doubts and fears win
Yes, your story has many mistakes (that’s part of the deal). Nevertheless, the main reason you keep jumping back to the beginning is that your doubts are taking you by the hand and leading you there. You’re all too happy to let it lead.
Starting a project is difficult, but now you’ve become accustomed to it. You’re attached.
The next stage is writing the rest of your novel, and you don’t know what you’ll find. You don’t know what you’ll write or if your words are good enough. So, you’re letting your doubts drag you back.
At this point, you need to ask yourself a question: Are you going to let your fears win?
You might not know what you’re writing. You might have a hundred unanswered questions, but you need to trust yourself and the process.
“All I know is that if I sit there for long enough, something will happen.” — Anne Lamott
Your job isn’t to have all the answers before you start writing the book. You need to take the idea you have now, write it, and see what happens. You’ll find your answers as you write.
4. Embrace the discovery process
As I said, there are still hundreds of problems in your story that need solutions. This is why you should let the process be what it is — a complete fucking mess.
Think of this journey as a jumble of cords you’re going to take a while to untangle.
Writing is supposed to be fun, so play. Let yourself write terrible scenes until you get to one detail that fills you with joy because you think, “I can take this somewhere.”
Those moments are special, but you won’t get to them if you don’t write.
Writing is the process of discovering and developing your thought, not merely the transcription of already complete thought. — Reed College
Take every small discovery as a win. Don’t sit there, staring, wondering how you’ll ever get through the confusion. Just grab two cords and start unwrapping.
I don’t know a lot about my story yet, but I’m not going to figure it out if I don’t keep writing.
Right now, you’re standing at the edge of the forest, taking ten steps forward, and then turning back to try it again.
Walking into the dark is frightening, but you won’t find the adventures you’re seeking unless you keep walking forward.
So, stop going backward and keep pushing yourself. Whatever you have written now, keep adding on to it. Later, once you’ve had your, “Oh, so this is what I’m writing,” moment, then go back to the beginning and rewrite.
For now, forget your fears, doubts, and questions, and write.