The First Sentence Is The Hardest

The first sentence is the hardest. Some people might disagree, some of you might swim right through that first challenge, and kudos to you if you do. But I struggle with it. Finding something snappy and concise, something to capture the reader’s attention and draw them in, achieving that with one sentence is difficult. We don’t have the advantage of building amazing posters for our films, or using bright colours, interesting shapes and scenes to catch the eye from afar. At least not right away. Sure, when the book is on the shelf, we have cool covers to grab attention, cool titles emblazoned in bold, stylised fonts upon the spines. But the first thing we need, the absolute very first thing we need to get right, is that first line. And I find myself confronted by that every time I try to start again the next day; but this time, I’m not trying to capture the interest of an agent or a publisher or a book-readerer, no, this time I’m trying to re-capture the energy and the feeling of the scene or the chapter. That, good people, is an altogether different beast.

I’m writing about this because I feel it needs to be said, and it ties in quite nicely with a couple of things Lev Grossman said in today’s NaNo pep talk. He said this – 

I get to a point where I say to myself: let’s admit it, this just isn’t going to happen. Given the number of words I have written, and the number of words I have left to write, and the rate at which I am currently producing words, and the crappiness of said words, it is mathematically and physically impossible that I will ever finish this book.

And this…

So this is point number two: nothing is wrong with you. You’re not different. Everybody feels as bad as you do: this is just what writing a novel feels like. To write a novel is to come in contact with raw, primal feelings, hopes and longings and psychic wounds, and try to make a big public word-sculpture out of them, and that is a crazy hard thing to do. When you look at other people’s published novels, they seem gleaming and perfect, like the authors knew what they wanted to do from the start and just did it. But trust me: they didn’t know.

These words resonated with me. At a time where I am suffering an all time confidence low, and facing struggles daily with regards to the quality of my writing, nothing could have benefited me more. I believe this to such an extent that I had to share it. There’s a good reason I struggle with the first sentence every day; each time I try to gain access to a scene, I’m gaining access to a memory, a physical and emotional memory, the character’s memory, too, I’m reaching deep inside myself, because what he said is true, if you are struggling, it’s because you’re reaching deep inside, looking for the very toughest, most resilient things that not only stand to test you, but stand to test your characters.

Getting back into that place isn’t easy, but when you do, and you find yourself struggling onwards again, it’s not unique, it’s not the first time everyone has ever had those troubles. We only have to get it right once. But that means getting it wrong again, and again, and again. That’s repetitive, consistent failing, and that’s never easy. Then you get it right, you join the ranks of those authors you admire, envy, or are jealous of; for me, that’s Pat Rothfuss, Robert Jordan, Raymond E. Feist, Scott Lynch and so on. They failed again, and again, and again. Then they simply didn’t. And it paid off. So keep trying. You have to be in it, to win it. 

And another thing that ties in, I think. I always used to hear people say ‘write what you know.’ This was an immediate death sentence to my hopes of being a writer. I always thought it meant you had to see the world to write about different cultures, visit a desert to get an idea of the climate, climb mountains, visit new places. I’ve come to realise that’s not what ‘write what you know,’ means to me. The internet helps, but I’ll see what I see when I see it. No, to me it means the little things, like when you were a kid and accidentally stood on a rusty nail, or at school, having a water fight with a girl you had a crush on, kicking puddles at one another on your way to Craft & Design Tech. Experience. But you don’t need to see the world to have experience, you need only live your life.

Try these, too:


NaNoWriMo, day 10. I think.


Currently I’m sitting just shy of 28k words. 3 days ahead, now, so making solid progress. There are some people with 50k+ already, which isn’t surprising I suppose. It’s about this time that I’d have expected people to start finishing, but I can’t help feeling that some people are taking part for the wrong reasons. There’s one girl I’ve seen, who claims to have written 1,000,000 words a few years ago. Maybe she did. But that’s 33k words a day. Assuming she writes every day. All day. To me, that smells like bullshit. I have a hard enough time believing people can reach 80k by this point, let alone double that by the end of the months.

There’s no reason at all that people couldn’t write 10k in a day, but 10k every day, without fail, for 30 days consecutively? For example. I guess it doesn’t matter all that much. Maybe they’re telling the truth, maybe they’re not, but it seems like they’re missing the point a little bit. Who am I to judge though? NaNoWriMo is about nothing more than getting the words on the page, if they’re getting it down, then nothing else matters. But 1,000,000 words? Really?

Anyway, I’ve lasted longer than I thought I would. Before November 3rd, I’d not written much of anything in the better part of 6 months. It feels good to get back in the swing of things. Now I need to start telling myself my work is good. Get the mantra sorted out and all that.

My NaNoWriMo, day 8. And London Slang.


Okay, so, there’s literally nothing in this post to do with London slang, but I’ve today faced a mammoth task in getting any writing done whilst my lovely lesser half did research for her own NaNo novel. That, good people, was an absolute joy. I’m not fortunate enough to be in a position where I can go and sit in my office, or my study, or even in my bedroom, since, well, I’m a writer, and writers get to be destitute for large portions of their life. Isn’t that a law of nature or something? Truth is though, the slang down Saaf London is immeasurably ridiculous. Alas, I digress.

Almost 2 days ahead of that dang NaNo curve, which I consider a great success. I’ve been losing word wars with worrying consistency, but putting out a good amount of words in between, so I’m managing to stay ahead. Keeping myself aiming for 1600 words a day is proving to be quite a productive little tactic. I generally find it to be quite attainable, and a very reasonable number to set out for. If I can continue this habit once NaNo is done, then that would be pretty fantastic.

I have no doubt that my writing has improved between this novel and Long May Men Have Voices, I think also the characters are significantly improved. I’ve brought back some old characters from that book, too, which I hadn’t really thought of doing until they showed up one day. They do like to surprise you, don’t they? Pesky little things. It’s 35 odd years later, mind you, so it’s kind of interesting to see where they’ve ended up in life.

It’s nice to see some good folks following my blog. Thanks for the interest. /wave

My NaNoWriMo, day 7. And Toilet Epiphanies.


Don’t worry, I won’t go into any detail. I mostly just wanted to emphasise my delight at the nature of Idea Synergy, that’s what I’ll call it. I truly cherish those moments when one or more ideas suddenly coalesce into one better idea, and even more so when that idea proves to be something that can progress your story. I had one such moment today, yes I was on the toilet, but we all do it, regarding one character who needs to be able to cover great distances very quickly, and another companion character who has abilities others like him don’t. I remembered a character i introduced in another story a while back, who had certain advantages, and, let’s call him a mutual friend of the character who brings this companion into play. Very roundabout explanation there. I think it made sense. If it didn’t, no harm no foul, I’ve written 3k words today and moved a day ahead of the daily goals, so I’m a little drained.

My NaNoWriMo, day 6.

Not much more to add today, except to say that I’ve dived into a new character. I’ve been wonderfully surprised by a couple of people, one from America, the other Nepal of all places, who have both said they see shades of Joe Abercrombie in my writing, which is huge. I’m a massive fan of Abercrombie, and Abercrombie fantasy, or grey fantasy. I’ve always enjoyed the sword and sorcery stuff, but there’s so much more room for interpersonal nuance when you’re dealing with characters who don’t fall into such clearly defined archetypes.

My last story/debut novel, Long May Men Have Voices was 800 pages, 200k words of trope and stereotype, or stereotrope fantasy, as I like to call it. I believe it was good in its own way, rather well written, if I do say so myself, but it wasn’t at all what I had wanted it to be. I’m very much hoping I can turn the House of Keys into a character piece. I’ve gone into this story with literally no plans beyond letting my characters show me around. The first chapter is 24 pages and 10k words. I fully expect to cut it down, but there will invariably be large parts of it which consist of little more than characters exploring their surroundings.

I’m not only looking towards grey fantasy as where I want to go with my writing, but as an exceptionally difficult challenge. For me, there is no one better than giving voices to characters than Joe Abercrombie, the way he moulds his narrative around the hopes, desires and intentions of his characters is masterful. It’s on a different level. The guy is a genius. If I can achieve anything close to his level of talent, I’ll consider myself a success. Published or not.

Anyway, I’m still ahead of the target, my daily average is around 1800 words and I’m looking at finishing on the 28th, if I can keep it up. So all is looking pretty good.