Nine Thoughts Before Writing Chapter 2

Sasha Marie Stone posted Five Ways to Find Time for Blogging on at

I’ve revised her tips for those who want to write a novel. 

1. Did you actually write Chapter 1?  Congrats. If you’re feeling like a writer, you should. 

Stone suggests scheduling writing dates with yourself. I feel compelled to write every day. Either way, have a clear goal in mind. What do you want to accomplish? 

My minimum is one scene. Here’s how I move on from there. I read the Scene 1 and ask myself, what was Scene 1 really about? Therefore, what must Scene 2 be about?

That’s not to say that your manuscript must be written in chronological order. If you sit down to write Scene 2, but an idea for the hero’s confrontation with the villain jumps into your mind, write 43. Scene 2 can wait until tomorrow. 

But, Stone blogs, “commit to completing it.”

2. Are you re-writing Chapter 1?  

That’s the right step. But before you revise Chapter 1 a second time, and a third time, and a fourth time, write Chapter 2. I know, Chapter 1 isn’t perfect yet. It never will be. But as Ms. Stone so aptly points out, “Done is better than perfect.”

3. Now that you’ve started writing, keep writing. 

I’ve been writing for 40 years now. It’s part of my DNA. It’s no longer a chore, it’s something I have to do. 

I’m 67 now, and for at least 65 years, I resisted exercising. I hated going to the gym, and as a result I rarely did. I’d join a gym and I’d promise myself to work out. But I’d go twice or three times, realize what a foolish promise working out was, realize my heart wasn’t in it, it would be a year two before I went back. I’m finally at a stage where I want to go to the gym – need to go to the gym – each day. 

So, writers, do as I say, not as do. At first, you’ll probably schedule writing dates and times. I suggest you find a way to mix writing with pleasure. Treat yourself to a latte at Starbucks. Walk the dog and write in the park. Write during your lunch hour, when you can relax and enjoy the peace.

I can’t write at home, and McDonald’s dining rooms haven’t reopened yet, so I found Braum’s and Panera. I picked them because there are no waiters, and the counter people don’t seem to care how long I sit at a booth and write. 

To some, a restaurant would be distracting. To me, home is too quiet. I want those distractions. I motivate myself with a burger or a salad, I watch the people, and I stand up every 15 minutes to refill my water cup.

I also set a daily goal: write one scene. How many words is that? Let’s do some math:

My scenes average about 500 words. A double-spaced Word page is about 250 words, so I write about two pages a day.

My novel, To Daddy, Who I Never Loved, totaled 76,000 words in 57 chapters, an average of 1333 words per chapter. One chapter, therefore, averaged about three scenes and about than six pages.

At that rate, how long should it take you to complete the first draft of your novel? 500 words times three days a week equals 1,500 words a week. 

Divide 500 into 76,000 words, and that’s 50 weeks. Write four days a week, and that’s a novel in 38 weeks.

4. Intimidating, isn’t it? 

I don’t know about John Irving or Toni Morrison, but I was scared to put my writing out there in the world. It may have been easier for me than it will be for you because as a reporter, I’ve written about 15,000 stories over the last 35 years. Editors insisted on flawless stories. 

But daily journalism is different from book writing. Stone blogged, “perfectionism, as well as the misconception that each article is going to take several hours to complete, can be serious blockers to actually getting the job done.”

So my tip to you is just to write the first draft. A draft is a preliminary version; a draft must always be incomplete and imperfect. The second draft is an improvement, and therefore still not for public consumption. The third draft eliminates all the words and ideas that shouldn’t have been there. The fourth draft adds polish, and the fifth draft may be the one you’re proud of and want to publish. 

Any professional will tell you: Never publish the first draft or second draft. In fact, Ernest Hemingway himself once wrote, “Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing … I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times… The first draft of anything is shit.”

Yes, the first draft is shit, but it’s on paper. Now you know you can write. Now you know you can finish a novel. Now you have the satisfaction of accomplishment. Now you have something imperfect, but you can revise and make it more perfect.

5. Endlessly rewriting Chapter 1

Ten years ago, my boss wanted to write book. However, Richard got hung up on Chapter 1. He couldn’t move on. He got hung up perfection. One of my friends, Dottie Rexford, wrote Cora Pooler that way. She didn’t move on until she got every word right. But Dottie’s method didn’t work for Richard, and it wouldn’t work for me. 

6. Writer’s block

Never give in to the old saw, “I have writer’s block.” It’s not real, it’s an excuse. 

As a daily newspaper reporter, I got paid to write one or two stories every day. “There’s no crying in baseball,” Tom Hanks’ character famously said in A League of Their Own. There’s no writer’s block in the daily newspaper business. There are no excuses. There is no giving in to laziness. Did I want a paycheck every week? I wrote a story every day.

“You’ll be surprised at how efficient you can be when the goal is completion rather than perfection,” Stone blogged. 

Here’s how to complete one scene:

Write down your idea. List the elements that the scene must contain. 

Luke must hear the herald’s words. R2D2 must show Leia’s hologram. Leia must say, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” 

Luke must be intrigued by the beautiful girl. He must ask who she is. R2D2 and C3PO must deny knowing her, and create an aura of mystery.

Now write a scene with dialogue and describe those elements.

Don’t allow yourself to be lazy. Don’t allow yourself to give up.

7. An idea is a terrible thing to waste

Ever have a great idea and think, “that would be great for my book.” 

Did you write it down? No, you didn’t have a pen and paper. But you remembered it the next day, right? 

Never let that happen. Most of us carry phones. Text or email a note to yourself. Don’t wait even five minutes. Too much happens during those five minutes, and – oh snap – the idea is gone. Forever. 

I carry a 4-by-5 inch notebook in the front pocket of my shirt. My ideas go there until I get to my computer, and then I open the story file, when I write down and expand on my note. Sometimes, I get inspired and write the entire scene. 

Stone advocates blogging instead of wasting time. “How often during the day – while waiting in line, sitting on a bus, or just spacing out – do you open a social media or game app to while away the time? What if you opened the WordPress app (in your phone) instead and wrote a quick blog post?”

Would you prefer to waste your time on a mindless game, or write something you’re proud of? The score of that game will be gone the next day. The scene may survive you for years, for decades, long past your lifetime.

8. One bite at a time

One of my writing instructors, Patricia Charpentier, titled her book, Eating an Elephant? Write Your Life One Bite at a Time.

And that’s exactly how you’ll write your book: break up that insurmountable 320-page project into 50 chapters. Subdivide the 50 chapters into three scenes per chapter. Wow. You can write a chapter in a week.

9. Perfection won’t wait forever

The first draft is finished. Now make the first sentence better.

“Call me Ishmael.” 

“In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth …”

Initial reactions matter. You don’t get a second chance, as mouthwash commercials remind us, to make a first impression. Make that first sentence perfect. If agents, then editors, then readers are not impressed after a sentence or two, they will read no further. 

The first sentence should begin with a hook. Ask yourself, what is the hook for Chapter 1? What is the hook for this whole book? Now begin the first sentence with that hook.

Jacob Appel is an author, short story writer, poet, playwright, bioethicist, physician, lawyer and social critic. His cardinal rule of an opening line is that it should possess a distinctive voice, a point of view, a rudimentary plot and character. “By the end of the first paragraph, we should also know the setting and conflict, unless there is a particular reason to withhold this information.”

Here is Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find

“The grandmother didn’t want to go to Florida.” 

Already, the reader hears a distinctive voice, somewhat distant, possibly ironic. The reader hears the basic plot: conflict over a journey. The reader senses a character: a stubborn or determined elderly woman.

A mystery has been created. Why didn’t the grandmother want to go to Florida? Where did she want to go? Who did want to go to Florida? 

Appel’s personal favorite opening is Elizabeth Graver’s The Body Shop, which appeared in The Best American Short Stories 1991. “My mother had me sort the eyes.” 

Don’t confuse the reader, but it’s okay to puzzle the reader with a puzzled narrator. David Copperfield asked, “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”

Most readers will have to read the next sentence. Build momentum in Sentence 2.