Getting Beyond the First Five Pages

Issue 61

Getting Beyond the First Five Pages

By Rhonda Hopkins

Copyright © 2011, Rhonda Hopkins, All Rights Reserved



Every writer, published or unpublished, knows how important the first five pages are. If you have yet to prove yourself as an author, the first five pages are critical to getting an agent or editor to read more of your manuscript. Even if you’re published, many readers will read the first few pages before handing over their money to buy your book.


New writers can obsess so much about getting those initial five pages perfect that they never get beyond them, constantly revising. Their internal editor develops a nasty case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.


What happens then is those first few pages are written and re-written until the writer’s voice is completely written out. The novelist gets so bored with the story she’s telling, that she probably starts another, just to have something fresh to write. Something new and exciting.


If this affliction is affecting you, preventing you from becoming the published author you want to become, what’s the cure?


Have you ever watched an episode of Hoarders? The people suffering from that terrible illness are routinely pushed into getting rid of all those possessions in a short amount of time. It’s frightening for them and emotionally overwhelming. However, the viewer soon realizes that underlying all that “clutter” is usually a fear of some kind.


Maybe they hold on to things because they fear they’ll never be loved by someone. Maybe they lost a loved one and are holding on to possessions that might have had a meaning to that person. They fear by letting go of those objects they are letting go of an important part of their lives and their memories. There are as many reasons for the fear as there are victims of this disorder.


A writer who has difficulty getting past the first few pages of a manuscript, may be suffering from some type of fear as well. And, the reasons are probably as varied as there are for those poor souls who can’t let go of items littering their homes. The difference is the clutter is in their head. And, just like someone who is a hoarder, the writer must emotionally deal with those issues to become free of their burden.


After speaking with some extremely talented writers who have experienced this phenomenon, it seems that there are two major fears that preclude them from moving forward. Fear of failure and fear of success. And, each of these is probably motivated by other doubts based on previous experiences.


Now, fear of failure is completely understandable. No one wants to put in months or even years writing their heart out, completing a manuscript just to be rejected time and time again. Maybe the writer has attempted other things in the past that met with less than stellar success. Maybe someone has told them they can’t write or can’t succeed and these uncertainties have established a stronghold within their psyche.


But, fear of success? Why would anyone be afraid of success? Well, for one thing, once a writer succeeds, she’ll be expected to keep succeeding. She wows someone with her manuscript, then there are deadlines to meet. Can she meet them? Once his novel is published, not only is he expected to write and publish another (and another), but each one has to be as good as, if not better, than the one before. Maybe he’s afraid he can’t live up to that. Maybe he’s had temporary success in the past only for it to disappear after a brief stay. It’s scary. Sometimes enough to immobilize.


So, how does one move past that blockage? One of the first steps is for the writer to figure out exactly what it is that is frightening him as well as looking at all the underlying causes of that fear. While that won’t provide an immediate cure, it will help the writer to understand what is stopping him and help him take action.


And, exactly what action is that? Writing past those first few pages of course. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s not going to be perfect. In fact, it might not survive in the final version of the manuscript. But, that’s okay. Just write and keep on writing. Turn off the internal editor, the voices (internal and external) that say success is not possible and the dread that success has it’s own problems.


Try setting a deadline to finish the manuscript or a word count goal for each day or week. Use small rewards for goals met.


If it’s difficult to move past the fear alone, try working with one or more other writers and share your goals. Be accountable to each other. Sometimes the fear of letting down someone else, will override the fear that stagnates a writer.


Need more support? What could be bigger than NaNoWriMo? NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. Writers across the globe work to write a 50,000 word manuscript during 30 days. They support and encourage each other. They have write-ins at restaurants, coffee houses, libraries, bars, homes. Just about anywhere they can get a group of people together. It’s a great way to get in the habit of just writing without editing as you don’t have the time to do both. It’s held in November of each year. But, don’t wait until November rolls around again. Get started on your own.


If you still need additional support and encouragement, try an online workshop such as best-selling author Candace Haven’s Fast Draft class. She gets you motivated to write a book in two weeks. Two weeks? Yes. Two weeks. She’s proven repeatedly through her own writing and those of her class attendees it can be done.


Candy doesn’t leave you hanging there, though. She follows it up with a workshop called Revision Hell. That’s when she allows you to turn your internal editor back on. One of the best things about these classes (besides the great advice), is they’re free. As are other workshops available which can be found on her website.


So, if you just need that little push, Candy’s workshop is wonderfully motivating. However, if you need a little more in-depth analysis and help over-coming obstacles, try Margie Lawson’s Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors class. She turns her experience in psychological counseling and writing toward assisting other writers in her classes. Check out Margie’s website and her list of awesome workshops which include: Empowering Characters’ Emotions and Deep Editing.


And remember, once you get past those first five pages, the revision of those other 75,000 words is just as important. After all, if an agent or editor likes the first five and wants to read more, they want the rest to be just as enticing and just as polished.


But, don’t get bogged down in fear again at this point. It’s been conquered or at least tamed (after all, a little fear keeps us improving) and it can be managed through the editing process. If a writer can write the first few pages well enough to capture someone’s attention, she can write the rest just as well with courage, conviction, spell check and writing buddies.


Regardless of how a writer goes about it or how quickly the book gets written, the important thing is to face the fear and write. Don’t leave your characters stuck in a never-ending beginning. Nothing good can happen until those first five pages are left behind and the story resumes.


“Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.” -- Anonymous