I had a friend back in the day who used to ask me how you chat up girls. The whole thing was a bit of a mystery, and so he asked if I could break it down into steps. The opening line, the first few things one should discuss, and then how to transition into asking the lady if they would like to meet up for drinks. In his mind, there was a formula that he’d simply not yet grasped, a method that would generate C if A and B were performed correctly, and if he could but simply perfect each individual step it would amount to a seamless, perfect whole.
I tried to explain that it didn’t quite work that way. In fact, focusing too intently on each individual step would lead him to not see the forest for the trees. Instead, it’s all a matter of confidence. The ability to simply relax and enjoy oneself, to go with the flow without expectations and if it works out, great. If it doesn’t? Then perhaps that simply wasn’t the right girl for you. In the end, however, obsessing about your opening line is the wrong approach altogether; you simply have to start the conversation and see if there is chemistry.
I think the same thing applies to writing a novel. I have spent some time trying to figure out the best way to start my first chapter, the perfect hook, the right moment in which to kick things off. The recent list of 100 first sentences from 100 great novels that’s been floating around didn’t help dispel this notion from my mind, and so I could sense myself begin to vacillate, temporize. What’s worse, I wasn’t 100% sure I’d locked in on the protagonist’s voice; did I know enough about her to write authentically from her POV? And where did things go after the first chapter? I had a detailed outline at hand, but was it sufficiently complex, did it take in account all the potential ramifications, was it engaging enough, was it fun?
At some point however you have to set aside all these doubts and queries and simply tuck in to your writing table and get started. It’s like talking to a girl. It’s not the particulars that matter, though of course they count; it’s the confidence you feel and the enjoyment you take from the process that will shine through.
And the best part? Unlike meeting someone, you can go back and revise your opening page to your heart’s content.