First chapter obsession is a known form of literary hell. Sadly there is no escape.
There are five stages and they might go something like this…
- Unrealistic expectations. With a goofy smile on your face and a head full of characters, plots and adverbs, you set out to write your literary masterpiece. As with any creative project you kick things off by setting a few unrealistic expectations; you will write a minimum of 2,000 words a day, you swear blind that you will stick rigidly to your plot plan and you will NOT get obsessed with your first chapter. In your head writers who have First Chapter OCD are newbies who have no self-control. Your first chapter is going to be amazing and will slam dunk your reader into your novel.
- Euphoria. You are sat in ‘Writing Corner’ squealing with literary delight at your first draft. It is quite simply a masterpiece! It sounds so good, you are seriously debating whether it needs further rewrites. After a huge yawn and a bit of a stretch you alert the world, via Twitter, that you have finished your first draft and it is #outofthisworld. As you sit back in your chair, gazing longingly at the first page of your draft novel, your eyes casually skim read the first few paragraphs. Your stomach clenches and your mouth runs dry. A little voice inside you whispers ‘they are going to need some tweaking!’
- Denial. Whilst you ‘rest’ your beloved first draft in a drawer, for a few weeks, you keep yourself busy by binge reading articles and books on the craft of writing. The only thing you take from this diet of writing advice is that your first chapter needs to be as hot as your literary pants! Forget the rest of the novel, the first chapter sells your book. You reassure yourself that your first chapter was hot (albeit in need of some light tweaking) before you put it away. Once your draft has rested you fish it out and read! It is at this point that you start to realise your first chapter is going to need more than a ‘light tweak’. Your gut tightens, causing you to exhale loudly. A few days later and you are still fiddling with your first chapter. A little voice inside you whispers “you are getting obsessed with your opening chapter – what about the rest of the book?” You deny this straightaway – how could your mind come up with something so ridiculous! You are not obsessed!
- First chapter obsession. You can’t leave the damn thing alone! Tweaking has turned into aggressive pruning and all you can see in your mind when you close your eyes at night are the words ‘rewrite!’ The rest of the novel is left alone whilst you butcher your first chapter, fuelled by all those articles you read whilst your draft rested. What really bugs you are those initial opening sentences which seem to haunt you in the small hours, making you sit bolt upright in bed, drenched in sweat. A loved one finds you in a tear-stained huddle on the floor whimpering “save me – my first chapter is still not right and I am obsessed with it!” They tell you to get a grip of yourself and focus on the rest of your book. Your first chapter will sort itself out. After casting them a dark look, muttering some stuff about how they don’t know anything about writing, you get to work editing the rest of your novel.
- False Hope. You don’t like to admit it but your loved one’s advice proved to be valuable. After focusing on getting the rest of the book right you realised where you were going wrong on your first attempts. You finish your second draft and with a goody smile back on your face you send it out for beta readers to review. Your obsession with your first chapter is over. For the first time in weeks you have been sleeping like a baby at night and you can go through an entire day without thinking about your first chapter. A month later and your email box contains all your beta reader feedback. With that same goofy smile on your face you start to wade through their feedback. As your loved one sits down to relax and drink a nice cup of tea they hear a piercing scream from Writing Corner. They groan as you charge into the living room red-faced, sobbing and clutching your draft. Those pesky beta readers believe your dreaded first chapter needs a LOT more work and may require a rewrite.
First chapter OCD is a terrible ailment and I have much sympathy for any of my readers currently experiencing this.
Good luck out there. All I can say is that therapy does work 🙂