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:


3 comments on “The First Sentence Is The Hardest

  1. Peter Prasad says:

    The first sentance most often is best written last. Just start and add a new beginning once you’re done.

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