Editing Tip: 10 Ways to Get Past the First Chapter

We shall begin today’s lesson with a personal anecdote.

My current goal is to edit Chasing Nonconformity. This is going very poorly, because every time I sit down and open up the file, it begins on page 1 — also known as Chapter One. Now, logic dictates I would just skip ahead in the document to wherever I need to edit and go from there. But before I do that, I happen to notice a slight re-wording I can do on paragraph three. Okay, that’s better … oh, but I don’t like how Eris rolls her eyes in paragraph five. And I missed a comma in paragraph 7 … maybe I should keep reading …

Three hours later, Chapter One has completely changed for the zillionth time and I’m no closer to finishing the darn draft than when I started.

As I’m learning, the trick to editing a book is to get past the first chapter. Once you’ve broken through that barrier, sky’s the limit! No, I take that back. There is no limit. The first chapter is a pair of steel shackles and you are the Hulk, summoning up your anger, stoking the fires of your wrath, bigger and hotter and higher and flamier until BOOM! Free of the shackles, free of the first chapter, ready to show the rest of your story who’s boss. (relevant link)

Thus, I present to you …

10 Ways to Get Past the First Chapter

  1. Highlight Chapter 1, cut it, and paste it at the end of your document so it isn’t the first thing you see.
  2. Never turn off your computer or close your document file so you can always keep your place in the manuscript.
  3. Hire someone to slap you in the face with a lightly salted salmon fillet every time you try to edit Chapter 1.
  4. Change the font color of Chapter 1 to white text so you can’t see it.
  5. Search “Chapter 2” and don’t look at the screen until you know you’re in the right place.
  6. Hire someone to slap you in the face with a braised lamb shank every time you try to sneak back to edit Chapter 1 whilst pretending to edit the rest of the manuscript.
  7. Hire someone to scream directly in your ear every time Chapter 1 appears on-screen in order to mentally connect the first chapter with complete terror.
  8. Commit a crime and go to jail. Hard to edit Chapter 1 without a computer.
  9. Hire that guy from Inception to sneak into your mind and brainwash you into forgetting Chapter 1 exists.
  10. Summon up some basic willpower and just skip the first chapter.

As you can see, some are more practical than others. I myself will be starting with #3. I wanted to go with #6, but lamb is significantly more expensive than salmon and I am poor.

Thank you for sharing in my madness. For all those Canadians out there, Happy Thanksgiving!


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Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 35 Comments

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35 thoughts on “Editing Tip: 10 Ways to Get Past the First Chapter

  1. I love this. So many writers want to edit while they write. I never edit one word until I’ve written the last.

    • See, I both edit while I write and edit while I’m supposed to be editing — in this case, editing the same thing over and over while the rest flounders. Perhaps I really should take a look at my list and try out some of them, lol.

  2. I loved your number Three. Then I saw number Seven. LOL. For sure! That chapter one gets me every time…

    • Hahaha glad you enjoyed it 🙂 Chapter one is the worst — mainly because it’s THE MOST IMPORTANT chapter, as that’s what people use to determine if they want to keep reading. I CAN’T HANDLE THE PRESSURE!

  3. Ha. Those are some… interesting methods! xD But I know what you mean about Chapter 1 being so difficult. After all, if it’s not perfect, you lose the reader. Unfortunately.. some writers put waaaay too much emphasis on the first chapter and neglect the rest of the book. Careful not to fall into that trap!

    • And by “interesting”, you mean “awesome”, right? 😀 Ahh, and very good point! It’s definitely crucial to make sure the rest of the book holds up to the first chapter. Although with a decent editor that usually isn’t a problem.

  4. LOL! I can relate! I like all your tips but especially #4 – now why didn’t I think of that? genius.

  5. I’ve heard it suggested that we should edit our books backwards, starting in the last chapter. Hard to convince myself to actually do this, but it might be good advice. Though it might be handy to have a list of ideas like yours for how to actually go about this. 🙂

    • Siiiigh … another list coming up.

      Seriously though, that’s a very interesting idea. Edit from the end … I mean, you could do that for something like proofreading for typos, because you don’t necessarily care about the story. But if you’re editing for story continuity and whatnot, you definitely wouldn’t want to start at the end — unless you did, in which case you’re MAD! MAD, I SAY!

  6. This is why I don’t edit.

  7. I tried editing my book backwards once, one paragraph at a time. Was interesting. 😛

    • I actually did that for proofreading, and it did work well. But to actually do like a structural edit, make sure the characters are behaving and whatnot … front to back works a bit better, I find 😀

      • Absolutely! I kind of force myself to quickly read through the first chapter, otherwise I fall into the same trap. 😛

  8. Rather delete Chapter 1 entirely. Once the book is in print/published online It will become an interesting talking point during the first public reading, especially as by then you are likely to have forgotten what the hell was in it.

    • Bold strategy! Of course, then chapter 2 becomes chapter 1 and the whole mess begins again.

      • Ah … I knew there would be a catch.
        But wait …. you would now be starting Chapter ”1” without Chapter 1.
        How would you explain Sally’s new boyfriend and Uncle Frank’s war wound and why the dog only eats cat food?

        See? Already you have a mystery that will befuddle not only the readers but the author as well.

        Very clever, I’d say. 😉

        ps I want credit for the new plot.

  9. I personally think no. 3 is more effective, who wants to smell like wet fish all day?

  10. Do # 4 at your own risk of forgetting you did. Great post

  11. Were you really hungry when you came up with this list?? xD But I know what you mean! I have a friend who always starts ‘writing’ by basically re-editing all of the pre-existing chapters… Which means that actually nothing gets written, and the first 5 chapters are always changing. I mean yeah, I guess they’re better every time, but taking 8 years to keep writing past like 10 chapters will do that to you!!

    Anyway, you can do it. 🙂 It worked once, right?

  12. When we lived in Scotland, we discovered that three very expensive (in Greece) delicacies were particularly cheap: salmon, Angus beef and venison.

    As you can imagine, we ended up eating so much of the stuff that when we’d come back to Greece for vacation and people would ask us what we want to eat, we’d say “anything except for salmon, steak or venison.” Oh how spoiled they must have thought us! 😀

    • Hahaha and I can imagine the looks you got, too. I sort of had that happen to me, although not quite the same situation — in Korea I got absolutely spoiled by the cheap food and cheap alcohol. Like, we’re talking an entire bottle of soju for $2. Then I get home to Canada and it’s $10. I tried to explain why that was so insane to all my Canadian friends, but they just didn’t appreciate it the same way I did 🙂 Also, a meal of steak, salmon, and venison sounds heavenly. Please ship me some ASAP.

  13. Ugh, this is so old now, but still so relevant. My recent rewrite of my own project bogged down. And I realized a large part of the problem was how many times I had changed the first half of the book compared to the second! The first chapter changed a lot, admittedly to try and capture attention. But meanwhile, the climax and resolution of my prose suffers from a lack of attention.

    • Yup, and that’s what ALWAYS happens. Even during my re-write, I was super intense editing for the first part, but when I started to get near the finale, I ended up doing more reading than editing — gotta get to the end! Gotta see what happens! Wow, this is so crazy! What will happen next? Ahhh! Completely forgetting you wrote the darn thing, lol.

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