Last night I ran into a friend who recently finished writing her first novel, which is such a huge thing. I mean, how often do we writers start projects and never finish? Getting to The End is a feat unto itself.
She's revising the draft, she said, and has started to make progress now that she figured out the beginning of her novel isn't actually the beginning.
She cut the first three chapters, starting the story with chapter four and tucking the necessary bits from what used to be the beginning into later parts of the book.
Which is such a smart move.
And a courageous one, too.
It takes courage to cut, period, let alone entire chapters of your book. Especially chapters you thought were the beginning. Writing a novel can take a long time, and that opening chapter has likely lived in your brain as your first chapter a while. For it to suddenly not be your opening chapter? And to quite possibly not be in the book at all? That can be disconcerting.
I worked on my first novel (Now That You're Here) for a couple of years before selling it. I'd lost count how many times I reworked the opening chapter. Imagine my surprise, then, when my editor suggested that chapter eight was actually my opening.
I set the edits aside, waiting a couple of days before scrounging up enough courage to open the document. I remember taking a deep breath, selecting the chapter eight text, cutting it, pasting it into pole position and renaming it Chapter One. When I read through the manuscript again, it was so, so obvious. My editor was right: chapter eight really was the opening.
Maybe all that toiling over my original first chapter was a sign. Maybe that was the text telling me it wasn't in the right spot, I don't know. But I do know, left to my own devices, that first chapter would have stayed my first chapter. This isn't horrible or anything; but the manuscript certainly wouldn't be as strong as it is now.
It makes me admire my friend all the more for seeing her beginning wasn't her beginning and for having the guts to make the change.