Ever since I put the final period at the end of the last sentence of JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW, I had always imagined the beginning of #2 starting a very certain particular way. It was unexpected! Shocking! A little bit unsettling!
But after I submitted a partial to my editor, she came back and said (very politely): the opening didn’t work. My agent (very politely) agreed.
But… but… I wanted to sputter, this is how I always imagined it. It’s part of the fabric of the novel. How can I write this novel if this isn’t the beginning?
Then I took a step back and realized something: they were totally right. It didn’t work! Not even a little!
Thankfully, trained publishing professionals saved me from one of the deadliest foes of the writer: the first idea.
First ideas are much like first loves. You fall so hard for someone, they are your everything, you love them to the point of rendering you completely bonkers. Then there’s a calamitous breakup, and you think the world is quite possibly going to explode. Then some time passes and you realize that person was perhaps quite nice but you know what they kind of smelled funny and maybe I should have wondered about that throwing star collection before I found one stuck ominously in the dashboard of my car.
Um. Where was I? Oh yes. First ideas.
The point is this: first ideas have a tendency to become intertwined with your conception of the entire novel. You start to think: this is how this character is. This is how this world is. This is how this novel is. If it doesn’t work, well I guess the whole thing isn’t going to work.
But who owns those characters? Who owns that world? You do! You’re the writer. You can change it to make it work. You really can. You own your character and plot and setting.
Every book on writing I have ever read talks about how dangerous your first ideas are, and it’s positively absolutely true. Some say you have to think of ten bad ideas to find every good one, some say you should discard five GOOD ideas for every one you keep, Stephen King advocates darling killing, etc. etc. The one thing all this advice has in common is that no idea should be sacred. If it doesn’t work it doesn’t work.
It’s so important to move past those first ideas and to avoid making them too intertwined with how you envision the entire project. Obviously you can’t change a novel beyond a point where it stops being the story you want to tell, but short of that, everything is changeable.
Take a throwing star to that first idea. Your second or tenth or hundredth idea is bound to be better.