The First Line | NANO TALK 2016

How important is the first line of your novel?

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NaNoWriMo

I’ve never sat with my feet up on a desk before. Especially someone else’s desk.

BEHOLD – the first line of my novel.

I do not like it. I didn’t even want to share it with you. But let this be a lesson: you are not going to like over half of what you write. Are you really going to let that stop you from writing at all?

If I ever finish writing this book, if I ever get into the revisions stage, I will likely rewrite my first line. Twice, three times, maybe more. But I’m not going to rewrite it now. Why? It’s National Novel Writing Month, not National Revise Every Single Word You Write Until You Lose Your Sanity Month. This is not the time for revisions. Stop second-guessing yourself.

First lines are one of the most significant, time-consuming elements of a novel – at least in some writers’ points of view. I happen to be one of them. I’m obsessed with first and last words (an obsession that started long before I read Looking for Alaska, mind you – hence why it’s my favorite book). The last novel I wrote and edited to completion, back in college, I rewrote the first line at least three times, until I found the one that best fit the story.

I’m not completely confident this first line will stay – and you probably aren’t, either. Right now, though, your first line isn’t the most important thing. Right now, you need to write everything that comes after that. Develop your characters. Let them hold your brain hostage while they overpower you and finish writing the story you started. My English professors in college always told me to write my essay introductions last. They were right. Often, you can’t know what your final first line should be until the rest of the story has already unfolded before you.

But you do have to start somewhere – anywhere. It might be at the beginning of the book or the end; it really doesn’t matter. Whether it’s the first line of the story itself or just the first line you wrote on November 1, leave it alone. It’s not going to be perfect – certainly not now, maybe even not ever. Let the anticipation build up. Let it motivate you to keep writing. I can’t wait to go back and start revising – but I can’t do that if I don’t have a finished book to revise. I think every editor and writer I’ve ever asked has agreed that revising while writing a first draft is an absolute NO. Do not do it. If you’re that bothered by imperfection, you’re going to have a really hard time finishing a book. It’s possible. It’s just going to take you a long, long time.

The most important thing right now is that you keep writing. Keep moving forward – don’t go back (unless you’re writing out of chronological order, as I am). We’re about halfway there. It’s not too late to catch up. That first line has room to grow – but later. Much, much later. I’m off to crank out another 2,000 words. I strongly advise you do the same. (:


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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