Take The First Step

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It’s Monday. The start of another week. Thanks for stating the obvious, you might be thinking. But as I wandered along on my morning walk back from school, I pondered the idea of beginnings. Starting something – taking the first step, as it were – is often the most difficult part of any journey. Think about it. Walking into a new job or school. Starting a new sport. Beginning a diet. Making change in your life. Whatever the first step may be, it involves conscious choice and a will to proceed. It also can require courage, especially if you’re doing something you’ve never tried before.

I have a friend who is thinking of writing a book and she recently emailed me, saying she didn’t know where to start. This can be the hardest part about writing, I think. Starting. Sitting down and typing that first sentence, the pathway that leads you into the story. There are so many wonderful examples – Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again‘ and Jane Austen’ It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife‘ are two that come to mind straight away. And there are so many awful ones as well – there are even competitions to see who can come up with the absolute worst opening to a novel. The Edward Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is one to look at if you’re interested, named for the man who came up with the immortal ‘It was a dark and stormy night.’

I’d already been writing for many years when I decided to sit down and start the first draft of Oak and Mist. I remember clearly that it took me a while to get my head around the idea of writing a book. An actual book. I didn’t know whether I could do it, whether it would be any good, or whether I even had a complete story to tell. All I had was a starting point, three characters, and an idea of how they might work together.

My first draft ended up being a monster of over 160,000 words. I managed through successive edits to whittle it down to below 140,000, which I then split into two halves, Oak and Mist and No Quarter. But the cool thing, the thing that really kept me going, is that the story itself didn’t change, nor did the characters – it was the language and structure that needed work. I rewrote and changed the first three chapters so many times I lost count, before finally condensing them into a few short pages. But the beginning incident, the idea that started the whole journey, never changed.

So the important thing with any sort of journey is to start. As you can see, it took time for me to actually sit down and choose to write a book. Then it took even more time to get the beginning of the book the way I wanted it to read. But it didn’t stop me from writing, from continuing on with the story until it was told. For you can always go back. Until the work is published, there is always room to make changes. So don’t let fear hold you back. The story is there, waiting to be told. The journey, there to be taken. All you need to do is take the first step.

(This is an edited and amended version of a post first published in July 2014, when hardly anyone came to visit my blog. Thank you for coming to visit today)

PS I’ve been nominated in the Bloggers Bash Blogging Awards as Best Pal – yay! If you’d like to vote for me, (or even if you wouldn’t), head on over to Sacha’s blog and make your vote count!

34 thoughts on “Take The First Step

    1. Exactly. Taking the first step is when everything starts to change. I guess that’s why it can seem so daunting at times.
      And thanks for your nice words about my photo – I took it at Leighton House in London. I’ve always loved a beckoning path… 🙂

  1. Lovely blog post, Helen! A lovely stroll into the unknown.
    P.S. I was so excited to see your blog among the nominees and voted. 😉 Fingers crossed for you.

      1. Oh, yes! I feel like I’m going to the Bloscars! All these online celebrities… I’ll be the one foolishly grinning, not having anything clever to say until it’s all said and done… 😀

      2. Oh, I’m sure you’ll be fabulous, a celebrity just like all the rest of us! Looking forward to meeting you, I think it’s going to be a really fun day 🙂

  2. I agree it’s important to take that first step even without knowing where it will lead. Just do it, to coin a phrase, and the rest will flow. You’re lucky that your inciting incident hasn’t changed—mine has. In fact, one of the major incidents I wanted to write about has been edited out! I thought it would be a major part of the story, but it ended up right at the end of the book, and now it’s gone completely! It doesn’t matter, because it got me started, and it served its purpose. Sometimes, I think scenes need to be written only to get you to the real scene, the one that stays.

    1. Thanks, Louise – that’s a great way to look at it, that some scenes are written only to get you to the real scene. I think that’s very true. I know I have a file of deleted scenes, though I’ve not lost any major incidents yet. I hope your book is going well – I saw you’d sent it back to the agent, and so I have fingers and toes crossed for you xx

  3. Congratulations. My fingers are crossed for you.

    I remember trying to write those first words on the page and what a struggle they were. I knew that the first line is critical and completely froze. Silly me, I forgot that as the author, I had the ability to go back and work on that first line later without the reader ever being the wiser.

    1. Thanks, Allie.
      I remember the same thing, all these wonderful opening lines running through my head, and mine just sounded, well, not wonderful. But once I got my head around the fact that it wasn’t set in stone, it was easy to move on 🙂

      1. I bet he did 🙂 Still, all joking aside, it could have been a really awful outcome for you – I do hope he doesn’t ‘fix’ the car again.

  4. So true Helen, I’ve revised my first chapter 19 times I think! I’m still ploughing on. My story has changed VERY little just a couple more twists added mostly it’s the language that’s changed. Perhaps that’s a sign of a story that HAS to be told 🙂

    1. Yes! That’s how Ambeth was, too – the entire story arc hasn’t changed from the very beginning. It’s only the language that’s needed work, and then adding in more fine details. And what’s really cool is how things I wrote in the first book, before I really knew exactly how the last book would end, have turned out to be significant. It really does make me believe that ideas come from somewhere ‘else.’

      1. WOAH – Ok that is freaky. But actually I know what you mean. Stuff that came to me has started to have an impact in book two (ok I know its not quite the same as I am so early on in the series) but I do know what you mean.

      2. Yes, that’s exactly it – and I think it’s so cool. That’s why Big Magic resonated with me the way it did – I liked the concept of ideas coming to the writer from somewhere else 🙂

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