Monday, November 1, 2010

NaNoWriMo: How to Conquer the 1st Page of your Novel in 6 Steps!

Or... How to get started when the going is already tough!

Read more of Doug's Sticky Note comics here.

Ah, the blank page!

It holds so much possibility for creative freedom and expression. Yet, as soon as we load that "Untitled1" document or put a pen to the paper or stick it in our typewriter, why do we find ourselves staring at it with an equally blank stare? We're scared. Scared our writing won't be good enough. Scared that we'll fail before we've even begun. Sometimes we'll even try to write something but immediately delete it as soon as we read back through it. We can throw anything at it, but nothing seems to stick. Another page gets crumpled and tossed into the trash.

I call this the "White Page of Death" syndrome.

So what can we do about it? First off, don't despair, because you're not alone! Here's some steps to help you conquer the first page of your NaNoWriMo manuscipt:

1.) Calm down and take a deep breath. You're just getting started, so there's no need to panic, it's only the first day after all. You've got a long road ahead but every journey begins with that first step. Revel in that first step. Give yourself a moment to clear your mind, don't worry about what's going on outside your writing space. This is your writing time, so take a moment to focus on your story world and your characters.

2.) Imagine the setting of your world and your main character within it. Close your eyes and then open your inner eyes into your imagination. Think about what your character sees and feels around them. Where are they? What are they doing right now? Most importantly, what do they want?

3.) Begin writing and describe what you're seeing in your head. Take it slow and remember what you want to write about. You don't have to include everything in the first page, so take some time to put yourself in the world. Perhaps your main character is just waking up and making breakfast? Maybe they don't have enough money for breakfast?

4.) Don't judge anything you write. Right now it is important to get started, and you will not advance if you continually rewrite your first few paragraphs. Trust me when I say that I've been there before and it will only end in tragedy for your novel. If you realize you've made a mistake - just make a foot note to come back to fix it later. You don't have enough of your story yet to even begin to judge if it's working or not. Remember that NaNo is about pounding out that first rough draft. It's supposed to be rough and only you will see it, so don't worry if it's perfect. Trust me, it won't be and that's okay.

5.) Always leave a little more when you're done. For some people the first few pages come quickly, but it's when they stop at the first chapter point that they get stuck. All of the sudden you're right back where you've started. Another blank page. More pressure to perform. The best way to prevent this kind of chapter fright is to always start a bit into the next chapter before quitting your writing session. This way you have a springboard when you start up again. If the blankness is still keeping you down though, just rinse and repeat the first four steps until you've got a momentum.

6.) Remember that motivation will never come to you. It's very rare when you're working on an intense project like this that you're already motivated to write. If this was the case there would never be such a thing as an abandoned draft or unfinished work. The easiest way to combat this is to come to terms with that. What you're doing is a big thing. It's not going to be easy, but sometimes you just gotta pull on your big girl panties (or big boy boxers) and sit down and work. Motivation comes when we've already started and are excited about the end result. You can see the big picture in your head. Some days you're just gonna feel like giving up, but especially on those days you need to quit making excuses and just write.

Most of all, know that you can do this. You are good enough. If you start writing now, you're well on your way to 50,000 words. Good luck to all of you!

This is Joanie's second time doing NaNoWriMo. She won last year with her science fiction novel about space pirates, even after she spent the first week lowering her word count by rewriting the first three pages 8 times. This year she's finally learned her lesson.


  1. LOL I love the Savage Chickens cartoons! The first page is always the hardest for me. So far I have already rewritten it 5 times. I'm trying not to judge it for now, and if it needs to be fixed, I'll leave that for the end.

    Good advice!

  2. And now we're nearly at the end. How are you doing?


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