I hate to admit it, but I cringe whenever I hear an author say something along the lines of “the first few pages of my published novel are exactly as I first wrote them.”
At a WIFYR conference I attended years ago, author Ally Condie was really brave and read us two versions of the first page of her (then) upcoming novel, MATCHED. The first version was the original first page that she had sent to her agent. And after hearing it, I thought it was pretty good and introduced us to her interesting world. Then she read the first page from her ARC, the one that she revised for her editor, and it was AMAZING. Seriously, I was blown away with the vivid imagery and–more importantly — I felt like I was actually in the story.
And that made me start thinking . . . what if she had just stuck with the original?
I had a couple of friends who attended a workshop, and their instructor had them all revise the first chapter of their novel (after it had first been seriously torn apart in critique and they had then learned what elements should go in the first chapter). Out of 15 participants, 14 came back with a stronger first chapter.
Okay, I want to pause to say there are a FEW exceptions out there. Those are the moments when our writer’s voice, combined with years of work and personal talent, hit that exact moment where it all comes together in that first draft. Carrie Ryan’s first few pages of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH are exactly like that. Even in that workshop, the ratio was 14:1 — though I am not suggesting that is a perfect ratio for all writers. I am actually saying most of us are on the 14 side — I know I am!
So here is your chance. Take your first page (or first chapter) and PASTE A COPY IN A NEW WORD DOC. Believe me that the new element helps. Now go to town on your chapter. What would you like to explore? Tear it apart and make it something new and fresh. Look beyond each sentence to the scene as a whole to see how you can make it stronger. You could even try it from a new point of view or a new scene altogether. Don’t be afraid to experiment, because you still have your saved original on your hard drive. See what you can turn out, and push yourself beyond what you think you can do.
Just tell yourself: I can write better!