I’m sure everybody who went to St. Paul for the Hamline MFAC residency is deeply battered and fried at this point, but for those who didn’t and are tussling with a novel, here’s some advice.
I was downtown in L.A. a few nights ago in a snazzy loft in a terrible part of town (nothing like cruising through the homeless to make one recite the Gratitude sutra). I was part of a panel. Three other writers and me. They were all women; they wrote for grown-ups. I was not a woman, and I didn’t.
What was a little remarkable was this: every one of us mentioned the first chapter. How many drafts we did. How useless it was to craft a first chapter with precision. How the first chapter is usually the writer telling himself or herself the story. Getting started. Lifting off. It’s almost never the first chapter that opens the real book.
So go ahead and start telling yourself a story. Introduce some characters. Plant a revolver or two. Write some snappy dialogue. Then even as you’re cuddling up to chapter one and saying sweet things, kiss it good-bye.