Monday, October 02, 2006


One. I’d better get the first chapter absolutely perfect before I go on.
You hear it said that the first chapter of a book is the most important chapter, the first page is the most important page, the first sentence the most important sentence. True. An editor may not read beyond a few pages. But you will never finish if you don’t get past the beginning. And the rest of the book will inform changes that you will later want to make to the opening. Move ahead. I’ve had one or two friends over the last many years who got stuck on perfecting the first chapter. They finally gave up writing.

Two. If I use up all my ideas in this book, I won’t have any left.
Not true. Ideas breed ideas. You will have more later. In any case, you have to make the book you are working on the best it can possibly be.

Three. Maybe somebody else has written the same thing.
It won’t happen. Some years ago I gave a class three pieces of information about the first chapter of a book – the central character, the setting, and the premise. I asked them to write the first page. Their pages were all very different.

Four. How do I know if it’s interesting?
If it’s interesting to you, you are going to be able to make it interesting to the reader. If it’s not interesting to you, forget it.

Five. I’ll wait for inspiration, and then write twenty or thirty pages at a crack.
Maybe you can. Most writers can’t. You are better off treating writing as you would an important job, which it is. Set a doable number of pages to write every day, and then write them.

Six. The people who get books published are real writers, not ordinary people like me.
Real writers are exactly like you. You may not start out writing publishable material, but if you keep at it, you can do it. I believe that people are not born knowing how to write a book. They learn how. Work at it.

Seven. I’ll just get it good enough. The editor can fix it.
No he won’t.

My own devils have always been numbers four and six. But most of us have some of these problems. Being aware of them can help the struggle to overcome them.

Barbara D’Amato


Patry Francis said...

Number one is the worst--at least for me. Great post.

Marcus Sakey said...

Terrific post, Barb! I've wrestled with all of these at one time or another.

I think number one is especially important. I know so many talented writers who just never seem to finish the damn book. For me, the rule has to be forward motion at all times. Once it's written, I can fix it.

David Terrenoire said...


True and true, all of it.

(Except I'm still wrestling with the ideas breeding ideas thing. That second novel is a bitch.)

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thanks, Patry, Marcus, and David. David -- I think the best solution is just to start. Once you have something on paper, ideas accrete around it. You hear things on the news or read something that fits in.

Michael Dymmoch said...

Wonderful advice.

ab said...

Great post. # 1 is important - if you don't write, you have nothing to fix! And ideas DO breed ideas.

ab said...

PS. I can add an entry: I will not start writing until everything else is done and the house tidy. (The house will NEVER get tidy! So forget that!)

Sean Chercover said...

Fantastic post, Barb. #1 and #2 are the ones I've most frequently struggled with, so far.

And there's a twisted little man inside my head, who sometimes tells me that sitting around making up stories is terribly self-indulgent. Getting a publishing deal has helped quiet the little bastard, but he still shows up occasionally.

Anonymous said...

"Ideas breed ideas". I like that. I know in my own little creative corner, I've already written far more than I thought I would. Just doing it has indeed generated further ideas.
I've yet to master the 'set a goal' as in a doable number of pages per day, but that may yet come. (Yes, 'procrastinate' is my middle name.)
This blog is officially being bookmarked. I'm sure I'll be able to learn quite a lot around these parts.