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Thread: Rewriting the first chapter so many times: Writer's block!!

  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Dec 2017

    Rewriting the first chapter so many times: Writer's block!!

    Today I decided that chapter 1, named "twenty-five laps?" was too long and that I, therefore, need to cut it into shorter chapters. Chapter 1 has now ended up being the first 3 chapters, which means that my book has gone from being 14 chapters to 17 chapters.

    I also have the problem that I keep rewriting the first chapter (now the first 3 chapters) a million times, while I don't touch up the rest of my chapters at all. I know that I do this because I have a terrible writer's block. It seems so much easier to edit the chapter that I know for sure needs it, but I also know that the rest of them need to be fixed upon.

    Problem is that I won't force myself to move on before I'm 100% happy with chapter 1 + I don't actually know how to end the story.

    What should I do!?

  2. #2
    please distract me mccardey's Avatar
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    Feb 2010
    Quote Originally Posted by colorfultypewriter View Post
    I keep rewriting the first chapter (now the first 3 chapters) a million times, while I don't touch up the rest of my chapters at all. I know that I do this because I have a terrible writer's block. It seems so much easier to edit the chapter that I know for sure needs it, but I also know that the rest of them need to be fixed upon.

    Problem is that I won't force myself to move on before I'm 100% happy with chapter 1 + I don't actually know how to end the story.

    What should I do!?
    Move on. It's all you can do at this stage. There's no point reworking the early chapters to death when you don't know how the thing's going to end. One of the difficulties of being a pantser rather than a plotter is that you have to learn to trust the process and let it move forward.

    If fear is the thing that's blocking you, pin a note to the document telling yourself you'll be back to check all this later and then move on.

  3. #3
    Defy gravity. Metruis's Avatar
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    Feb 2010
    Quote Originally Posted by colorfultypewriter View Post
    I don't actually know how to end the story.

    What should I do!?
    Well, you have two options, and neither of them are "continue revising chapter one."

    The first one is pants it–start writing again and write junk until you literally BRUTE FORCE yourself into momentum. This might be unpleasant. I have gone so far as to start keyboard mashing just to force my hands to work over top the keyboard, then that will evolve to gibberish, some trash storyline, and finally I can laugh and go, "All right, I can do this," and type the first real word.

    Sometimes the writing you do is practice writing, but it's building blocks, so that's okay. If you're enjoying practising editing, then you may as well keep doing it–but you're not a writer if you're not writing. So, the solution as a pantser soul is to force yourself with no mercy to write, until it shapes into something valuable for the edits that will come.

    Or, you can take option #2, which is to figure out how your story ends. This is the planning route. Find something really exciting to aim for. If you're having trouble envisioning an end, here are some questions you can ask yourself:

    "What does my character want, more than anything?"
    "What will happen if she gets it?"
    "What will happen if she doesn't get it?"
    "What will happen when she gets it?"
    "What would make this moment twice as bad?"
    "What matters most to my character?"
    "How can I steal that from them?"
    "If I was reading this story, what would be a satisfactory ending?"
    "What does it mean if they succeed?"
    "What would be exciting?"
    "Why will x and y character meet?"
    "Where is a cool location for the final battle?"
    "How can I crush all of their hearts?"

    So on and so forth. The trick is to find something in the future of your story that you're excited to get to, and work backwards from that to where you are now. It's okay to be a pantster who becomes a planner, and fnangle yourself an outline now. As for what you need to fill into this hypothetical outline, it can be as loose as you want. Even if you're just like "chapter 18, x happens, because of that y happens later." "chapter 19: soinso does the thing, because of that this other thing happens." and fill in the fun details in the middle.

    Do not fear the outline. The fun stuff will be found in writing the meat!

    I won't force myself
    Not with that attitude, you won't.

    Yes, you will. You have to. You came here because you know you need us to tell you to move on. Stop living in fear of the unknown. You've edited chapter 1 dozens of times, and you know the power you hold in the edit, so go write the rest of your novel, and edit it later! Seriously, go put chapter one in its own file and only look at other parts of your novel. Take it away. Force yourself. This is the novel you're looking for.

  4. #4
    Stand in the Place Where You Live KTC's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Step away from the editing desk.

    Maybe do a read through of the whole thing WITHOUT the intention of editing. Then try jumping into the next scene when you're done the read through. Staying in the past isn't going to get you to the finish line. Even if you polish your beginning beyond reproach, you still won't have a book. Sometimes the editing can really bog us down. It could be that the editing loop you're in is the very thing causing the writer's block. Step away.
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  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW
    Join Date
    Aug 2017
    Both sides of the Atlantic
    Problem is that I won't force myself to move on before I'm 100% happy with chapter 1 + I don't actually know how to end the story.
    You must force yourself to move on, as others said. Chapter 1 is the last thing to be polished after the whole story is done. This is the case because ideally the end should harmonize in some way with the start. You can't know the exact wording of the start if you haven't reached the end yet.

    Here's what you do:

    Open a new file. Cut and paste the story so far *minus those first chapters*. Start at say, chapter 6. Whatever. Just not where you're over-editing (because you are at this early stage).

    Do not open the file with the first chapters in it. Pretend it's gone. I have a folder on my desktop where I put files I don't want to see. My immediate file is right there on desktop, but the ones that clutter are in the folder. I don't bother to look at them unless I really need to. I'm too lazy to do the extra clicks just because I'm itching to read an old file when I should be moving forward.

    In the new file, read through if you have to, and then pick up where the story petered out. Keep writing forward. If you start to think -- Wait! If I do this, I have to change x, y, or z earlier in the book! Then note that down in the file, highlight it in yellow or whatever, and then keep moving forward. Pretend you already made the earlier changes.

    The goal is to get that first full draft done. It'll probably have lots of flaws, but it'll be done. Then you can reunite the story with the early chapters and unleash your editing powers upon it. You'll be so glad you waited once you see what you'll have to change when the whole story is done. Good luck!
    Last edited by Atlantic12; 12-20-2017 at 11:50 AM.

  6. #6
    Friendly Neighborhood Mustelidae The Otter's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    In the room next to the noisy ice machine, for all eternity.
    Being a compulsive tinkerer, I identify with this. I edit my stories to death, and particularly tend to fixate on beginnings; I'll change something, think, "hmm, no, it was better the old way," then change it back, then change it again. The thing is, you can actually weaken your work with too much of this kind of obsessive tinkering, because you will end up squeezing all the life and spontaneity out of it, and also ruining your own ability to see clearly what needs to be done. When you reach a point where you feel like continuing to edit is not improving the work so much as going in circles, then it's time to take a break. Set it aside for a while. Work on something else. Come back to it a month later with fresh eyes.
    Available in February 2018 from HarperCollins, my YA novel: WHEN MY HEART JOINS THE THOUSAND

  7. #7
    practical experience, FTW Jan74's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    I feel your pain, I can think of a million different ways to change my first chapter so I have only allowed myself to edit it once and moved on. Now when I return to my writing I only allow myself to read the last two chapters I wrote so I can pick up the pace and carry on. If I'm struggling with a chapter I've left it blank and moved on. Doing this has really helped me get farther than I've ever been before. I'm not an outliner, I wing it however I think of my novel like a trip. I now where my destination is but I'm not sure of the route until I get going and I take a million side roads and detours along the way and of course I always pick up a few hitchhikers along the way. I envy those who can plan it all out, but I do believe you should know how you want it to end.

    "You fail only if you stop writing" ~Ray Bradbury~
    "The road to hell is paved with adverbs" ~Stephen King~
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    "If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word." ~Margaret Atwood~
    "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." ~Mary Angelou~

  8. #8
    practical experience, FTW
    Join Date
    Jun 2011
    I have this problem. I know it works for some to write a full first draft before editing, and I try to keep writing as long as I can, but sometimes I'm just so dissatisfied with what I have, I get itchy all over and have to edit before my brain can let me move forward.

    But it's easy to get bogged down editing one place over and over, too, and under-edit other spots that could use the attention. And first chapters are notoriously rough. What I do is set out amounts of time each day I will allow myself to edit whatever chapter I'm on, and then once the clock hits xyz, I force myself to close it and only write new stuff. And to keep myself from only rewriting chapter one, I try to methodically work each chapter from one to wherever I am on the new stuff before going back to the beginning. Gives me a fresher perspective, too, as if I just keep staring at chapter one for days on end, I go a little crazy, and can't really see its faults clearly.

  9. #9
    practical experience, FTW
    Join Date
    May 2008
    I suppose it depends on what sort of editing you are doing. If it is just line level copyediting, then you can randomize and just grab a stack of pages and start editing. If it is substantive editing where you look for holes in plot, logic, continuity, problems and train wrecks, then going chapter by chapter seems advisable. No matter what, just hanging out at the first (3) chapters means that the rest is not getting edited.

    My old writing teacher once said that 90% (or maybe it was 88% or some other high number) of your work will be on editing.
    Last edited by Kalyke; 12-26-2017 at 10:26 PM.

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW
    Join Date
    Nov 2014
    I'm lucky to have a personality where I'm compelled to deal with the hardest problem first. In this case, it's your ending. Solve that, then you won't be scared to write the rest.

    Or just go in order. That's never a wrong answer. As long as you're making forward progress, it doesn't matter if it's imperfect.

    The only reason you should rewrite the beginning is if it's going to affect plot changes in the rest of the book, and even then it's questionable to spin your wheels on chapter one. Better finish the book, and that will give you a clearer idea of how it needs to start. Definitely if all you're doing is altering the form of the beginning and not the substance, put it aside and come back to it later.

  11. #11
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin ajenery's Avatar
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    Jan 2018
    Went through this once, so this rings a bell. I rewrote the first chapter but didn't like the new version so rewrote it again but didn't like the third attempt either - after about four or five versions I realised that the best one was the very first one. I simply edited a few grammatical errors and so forth that made me want to change it in the first place and then I was happy with it.

  12. #12
    Even the sphinx has eyes O_O Spooky's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2017
    Dead Hand Bunker
    The opening is actually the part I don't have any strife with, probably because I'm in constant recoil that I ever began anything, I seem to get on with with openings of tales and see little to adjust because that's where I struck a spark and found enough to build from. I don't mind rewriting and tweaking openings but I do very little digging and replanting as a kind of nod of respect and ritual of paranoia lest I lose sight of what lunacy I dared start this time! I think beginnings are beautifully fragile, I tend to get hooked on working from a point and progressing and figuring out what came before that, but I always consider the first hook I found, THE beginning for me, so even if it's not the opening of the story, to me,it's the curtain snapping open to flood forth the rest.
    Last edited by Spooky; 01-08-2018 at 10:49 AM.

  13. #13
    Makes useful distinctions Lady Ice's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    So are you still in the process of writing or you've written a first draft? Get it written, then you can edit it because you know how the story goes.

    It's like if you go on a journey to somewhere- you need to know roughly where you're going before you plan and you need to get there!



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