I know, I know, but I can’t help it. It’s about the first chapter again. Or the first page. Or the first stanza.
I was helping out a young writer (like Fitzgerald, I guess), but didn’t have to let anybody down easily. All he needed was a little early insight. I had a couple of chapters to deal with and, sure enough, chapter one was unnecessary. There he was doing what we all do — packing for a long trip. Everything he might need was there. (And now I’m going to milk this metaphor until it groans and falls over.)
Every item of clothing, every camera and battery, every pill and potion, four kinds of shoes and some energy bars. When I do this it makes me feel secure and prepared. And, I have to admit, a little bored.
Traveling light and adding necessities as I go is a lot more exciting. (End of metaphor, I hope).
When I threw out the young writer’s first chapter, I still had characters-in-motion, a setting, and a conflict. But rather than being fed-by-hand, I was pretty much on my own — foraging, in a way.
About that time I heard from my editor about “Coaltown Jesus,” next year’s NIV. Guess what — it starts slow and over-burdened. A day later a magazine editor asked for a poem to add to his theme issue. I moused around in my poetry file, found something appropriate, looked at it, and promptly cut the first stanza.
I have to admit that having other eyes on your work really helps. I have a person or two I can ask. All of you in the program have classmates. Maybe try swapping 15 or so pages.
Let me know how that works out. And, by the way, can I get a little sympathy here? It’s 100 degrees in South Pasadena!