Five things I’ve learned about writing the first chapter

Every day you write something, is a day you’ve accomplished something.

I often wonder how much of my life I’ve spent staring at a blank page. How much of my life do I spend trying to write over actually writing?

I wake up from dreams and try to clutch onto the fleeting glimpses of an idea, but they’re never clear enough to ignite into something real. I panic, and think ‘what is a writer without any words?’

What I’ve started to realise over the past year or so, is that those hours I spend looking at blank pages aren’t wasted. My brain is learning; cultivating the ideas. The idea eventually sparks.

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”― Jodi Picoult

Over the years — it’s too blurred to say how many — I’ve had glimpses of ideas for a novel. In my day job, I’m a writer and content designer for a global corporate company. Non-fiction articles have become easier for me to write. But fiction? Well, that’s been my nemesis. These ideas I had never sparked; the idea would always blur at the edges, until it was lost, like a dream.

As writers, we dream. We romanticise. This is great, we need this ability to picture a world separate from our own. But it comes with a price, and that price is called procrastination.

I’ve always wanted to write a novel; it’s number one on my bucket list. I never started to write anything for a novel until two or three months ago. I always imagined I’d write my book in a log cabin that overlooked a glimmering river, or while sitting outside an Italian cafe. I know, I’m a walking cliche. But this is true, I kept putting off the one thing I wanted to do, because the setting wasn’t right, or the mood was wrong, or the busyness of life made it impossible.

“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”― Sylvia Plath

Two or three months ago, I took a step back. I had a couple of health scares, my anxiety was back, and I found myself feeling stuck. I hid this well, but at a cost to my own self. The lesson I took away from this rocky part on the road we call life, is that no time will ever be the perfect time. If you want to write, then write. With that said, I started to write my first novel. I’m only three chapters in, but it’s three more chapters than I’ve ever created before.

You’re a creative; an artist, a poet, a writer, a lyricist. You’re one of the people in this world that colour outside the lines; you think deeply, outside of the box. Embrace it.

Here are my five lessons to help motivate you into starting that first chapter — I hope they help.

Lesson one: You don’t need a log cabin.

Photo by: laurenmacneish.com

We’ve all seen Colin Firth acting as a writer in Love Actually, and thought ‘geeze, I wish I could write somewhere like that’. He sits in a cabin with his old typewriter and looks out to the river while typing his masterpiece. Don’t get me wrong, I want to write somewhere like that just as much as you do. But take a little step back and ask yourself if that’s going to be feasible any time soon. If it is, then great, please invite me along. If, like me, it’s not, then embrace the settings more accessible to you. If home feels too hectic, then find a coffee shop. If coffee shops are too noisy for you, then find a library. There’s a place out there, ready for you to lay down some ink — find it.

Lesson two: Imposter syndrome is real.

Photo by: laurenmacneish.com

I’ve suffered with this my whole life, and often wonder if it’s why I’ve always sat in the background of my own life. I used to run a successful blog called “Photosandblogs”, and would regularly find myself deleting posts. It got so bad that I ended up taking down the entire blog (major life regret). I felt like what I was doing was inadequate. I was consumed by self-doubt. For me, imposter syndrome still lingers, but I’ve found ways to manage it. I want you to hear this: What you’re doing is worthy.

I wrote an article on ways to fight back against fear and self-doubt, check it out here.

Lesson three: Don’t edit that first paragraph, yet.

Photo by: laurenmacneish.com

Once you have the first paragraph (congratulations!) you’ll find yourself reading it over and over again. You’ll wonder if it sounds right, or whether it’s a strong enough opener. Try not to get too caught up in this. Keep writing, don’t break the flow. Edits can come later, but this is your time to write down your ideas and form the basis of your story.

Lesson four: Your first draft might be mortifying.

Photo by: laurenmacneish.com

After writing four chapters of my book, I decided to look back and get a feel for how things were going. I was mortified. The story jumped around, and I knew parts were missing. The whole fourth chapter got deleted. I made a few tweaks, and shared the remaining three chapters with some of my closest friends (one of them a writer). Don’t put yourself down, don’t think you’re not good enough. Almost every author will tell you that their first draft needed some work. Keep going.

Lesson five: Surround yourself with support.

Photo by: laurenmacneish.com

In all walks of life, you’ll find yourself up against envious people; jealousy can be toxic and they might make you feel like your writing isn’t good enough. The writing community on Twitter is a good place to find supportive, like-minded people who will engage with your content. If you decide to share any drafts, share them with people you know will be constructive, and not dismissive. Good friends, good family, good support.

Writing is hard.

It really is. You’ll have days where you feel like you’ve accomplished something great, and other days where you think you’re doing a poor job. Trust the former. Every day you write something, is a day you’ve accomplished something. Observe, move, and talk. Writing is hard, but when you get to that point where you think ‘actually, this sounds good’, then you’ll realise that hard work really does pay off.

Have you already finished writing your book? I’d love a link to your work :-)

You can check out my website here, my Twitter here, and my Medium here.

Photographer and writer. Based in Scotland. Using Medium for opinion pieces, marketing advice, and motivational articles. https://www.laurenmacneish.com/

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