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Thread: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

  1. #1
    Lord of the Drunk Penguin's Avatar Praefectus
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    Default Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    Greetings gentlemen,



    So I'm writing a book about fictional races with fictional myths and histories, all wrapped up together.
    I've spend about 7 years on getting the details right.

    Now, when I started writing it was my girlfriend who pushed me through, she said:

    'You'll never finish a book if you're afraid of one page.'

    Something along those lines. Thing is, I keep rehashing things. Retelling the story until it's no longer the same story anymore.
    It's really torturous. I just want to get back in DA FLOW.

    How can I do that?

    For instance: I wasn't feeling comfortable with the first pages of the first chapter, so I've re-written it. Now the main characters no longer waste time asking themselves when will a major character wake up, they actively stop a tiny rebellion and chat about their lives.
    I've wanted to cram in as many details about my fictional universe as possible.

    I think it's a bit over-loaded. Like, for instance, you don't usually look at the sky and think to yourself:

    'Man, the moon's one great satellite! I wonder if I was born under the sign of the Moon.'

    Do you?

    So, I think I'm exaggerating. Any ideas how to stop this?
    Help?


  2. #2
    Skotos of Sinope's Avatar Macstre Gaposal
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    My first thought would be to give yourself a deadline to finish your first draft and a page count which, along with your outline, tells you when you're finished. You can allow yourself to go back and tinker with what you've written, but not until you have a complete first draft. It will give you added motivation to finish. It's not a sin to keep rewriting. It's only a sin when the "rewriting" puts a stop to the actual "writing".

    Jot down your ideas for what you'd like to change or rewrite. Set them aside and keep them separate. You can come back to them when it's time for the second draft.
    Last edited by Skotos of Sinope; April 13, 2019 at 05:27 PM.

  3. #3
    Derc's Avatar Semisalis
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    I used to be just like that. "How do I do that? What do I do then? Oh my god, then this doesn't make sense, this needs overwork and this, and this, and this. Wait, this is bs."
    I refused to publish my work. I overworked it and overworked it and overworked it. I was then forced to choose between two options: bring it to an end and publish it in the form as it is or abandon it altogether.

    I published. And got grilled by some tryhards nonetheless. But there were also some people who enjoyed my work. Most of all I myself felt at peace to some degree, even thought I never achieved what I have initially planned. But that's just another problem. Planning. Stay humble. Plan what is doable. If a megalomanic team is not able to create the perfect story, how can you as a single person?

    Just ask yourself. What do you want to reach with the story? Abandon such things such as a perfect fit-it-all story without any errors that appleases anyone. It does not exist. And never will be.

    You have thousand of thoughts in your head. The reader on the other hand is distracted by his own thoughts, only reading the letters that you've written down. He'll interpret his form of a content into it, given the information you handed to him. But however that information will look alike, there'll always be differentions between your imagination and that of the reader, and that's okay.

    Just do what makes you happy. It is a hobby, after all.
    And don't fear criticism. Constructive criticism is there to help, deconstructive criticism is just toxicity and such as that one which can be ignored. Latter doesn't exist that much here in the Writer's Study. And that's very cool. Go for it!

  4. #4
    Cookiegod's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    The thing about planning is that, as I elaborated far too much in another thread, you should do it strategically.
    I plan it the same way I do project management. Embrace the unknown and merely determine how much leeway each part should have.

    If you're planning everything, you'll fail. Horribly. I can't stress this enough:
    1) You won't be able to avoid contradictions, you can't predict everything. Especially not character development. Characters should be grown, not planned.
    2) The more you plan the harder it'll be to start writing. Trust me, I know that myself. Even though I tried to saveguard myself.
    You should only plan things that matter. Things that make you write faster, and make you avoid a complete rewrite and huge contradictions. You can still get away with minor contradictions though, and you can also get away without any planning whatsoever.

    If it's a book you're writing, just know that your first draft should be nothing like your first one. So you should throw out all illusions about perfection. Do it badly, and feel proud for doing it badly, for at last thy art procrastinating no more and first draft has to be redone anyway.

    If on the other hand you are publishing it here or another forum part by part, then edits will be a bit harder, though still doable.

    So I'm dealing a bit with a similar problem when it comes to the first page.
    So what are the first parts of both chapter 1 and 2 (that one is done but not published yet) about? Exactly: Writers block. Let's me put a sarcastic spin on it and also get in the flow. I'm still slow though. But that's partly due to outside influence, bad habits, and due to English not being my native language, so I'm always struggling when I try to express myself in it.

    If those tips don't help, there's another way. But it's dangerous, do it only as a last resort.
    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 
    Make an elixir from the tears of a troll, the heart of an elder dragon, a hair from the right armpit of a powerful wizard (if he's left-handed, the left one), the inflated ego of a dwarf and the looks of disgust from a noble high elf. Last one should be easy to obtain once you show him the other ingredients. Cook all the ingredients in a silver kettle in the lava of the mountain of doom at midnight whilst running counterclockwise around it dancing the YMCA. Once you've passed the same spot 720 times, the potion should be ready. Serve it whilst still hot to French cheese for better taste and to heal yourself, as the HP-damage from the poison and the heat would otherwise likely kill you.
    Then, take a rest as you're probably physically very exhausted from all the work at this point, low on health and no one can work on a stomach filled beyond capacity with cheese wheels. Then, after the effect of the potion has worn off, rinse and repeat.
    That should do the trick. Works for me every time.


    EDIT:
    Quote Originally Posted by Derc View Post
    Constructive criticism is there to help, deconstructive criticism is just toxicity and such as that one which can be ignored. Latter doesn't exist that much here in the Writer's Study. And that's very cool. Go for it!
    Oh btw... You suck Derc!
    Last edited by Cookiegod; April 14, 2019 at 03:00 AM. Reason: Derc sucks!
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    Quote Originally Posted by Derc View Post
    No one cares what Derc has to say.

  5. #5
    NorseThing's Avatar Primicerius
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    When writing a larger work than we post on the net, try and write for a fixed period of time each day. If you use a story outline it can be easier to write a bit here and a bit there. Noting to say chapter one needs to be finished before chapter 7 has words on the page.

    Also, try to avoid the instinct of editing before a chapter is completed. Better yet, avoid the edit before the first draft is completed. Rather than edit, make notes of what you want to change and why. Also it can help if you progress enough to have your editor see an advance incomplete draft. Ask for general comments and not simply asking the editor to edit. This works best if you have the first draft complete and the editor has the time. Best to avoid friends and family input, by the way.

  6. #6
    Skotos of Sinope's Avatar Macstre Gaposal
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    You know, I just realized I now have the perfect excuse to repost my favorite pic evar:

    Spoiler Alert, click show to read: 

  7. #7

    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    I don't think you're exaggerating at all. I myself have had this problem. One thing to add aside from the great advice given by the rest is that you should aim to have a sort of outline on how everything is going to play out. Cookiegod is right to say that you should not plan characters, he is also right to say that you can get away without any planning, but I find that it helps to have a clear picture of what is going to happen next. Plan for the story, not the characters, and you won't find yourself spending time wondering what should be happening next.

    Swaeft's Scribblings (Library)| Swaeft's Snaps (Gallery)| My Blog (The Lensation)

  8. #8
    Lord of the Drunk Penguin's Avatar Praefectus
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    Okay, so I rewritten the first chapter.

    One thing, actually two things happened. Firstly, the characters started having voices of their own.
    I wasn't constantly thinking:

    'No, he wouldn't say this because it's not his profession or place to do so. He would say this because x and then do that, because y '

    They were just doing things on their bloody own. In their own time. In their own world.

    Then I began thinking:

    Wait a minute, the reader doesn't want this. They want action! Suspense! Events! Surprises!

    Then, the second thing happened: the action started to look & feel really dumb.
    Like they were cartoon characters.
    What the hell?

    Can you tell me what just happened?

    Also, thank you to everyone who has said something. Your advice means a lot, and I do mean, A LOT, to me.


  9. #9
    Cookiegod's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    What happened is what I told you would happen.
    You can't plan characters. You need to have leeway.
    Your characters feel like cartoons, because that's what they were when you started. Cartoons depict overexaggerated ideas. That's what they were.
    Action is hard unless you know how to do it (I don't).

    You can write without a plan. However, your story needs to be uncomplicated and at least somewhat short.

    With planning you can achieve the following:
    - Save time, as less rewrite would be needed (however, that only works if you don't overplan, which would lead you to procrastinate and waste far more time than you could ever hope to save)
    - Avoid writer's corners, where you don't have a clear idea to get out.
    - Still have some structure in it.

    What you can't avoid with planning:
    - Still need to rewrite, just less if you do it right
    - Still need practice. If it's your first thing it's probably bad

    It's rather simple, do it like projectmanagement. Usually your idea for a story is a moment, or a snowflake.
    - Define what makes this moment special, this shall be your goal.
    - Define then what ingredients are needed for that to happen. This is your starting situation.
    - Define key milestones that need to be reached through this journey.
    - Start writing.

    For me personally, chapters and scenes and parts form a subunit of a greater thing. They usually have a start, a problem and then a solution. So just like the overall storyline they tend to follow the whale plotline. Rising action for ~3/4th of the story, then climax, then dénouement. So your small parts should usually follow this pattern, unless you have reason to do otherwise, and still align into this greater story structure.

    Also: Give yourself a timeline on how quick you want to get it done before moving on. Get yourself some discipline. Especially because doing it right forces you to do it right. You don't want to be 50 by the time you publish, amirite?! Also, you have to do it quickly. Doing it over longer timespans means you'll constantly forget and have to start again and again, get the wheels turning reimagining things before starting. You'll become inefficient and people will start bullying you with memes of your own making.

    Oh, semifinal advice: Don't follow my advice. I made it all up. E.g. I can't tell you anything about 3 act structure because I never got the point. And my credentials are nonexistent when it comes to doing it right.

    Final advice: If you face a writer's block, do what I did just now and write inebriated.
    This helpful post was sponsored by Tullamore Dew. For the best of times.
    Last edited by Cookiegod; April 19, 2019 at 05:30 PM.
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    No one cares what Derc has to say.

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    So the problem was this:

    the chapter was done. I was near chapter V or VI when this idea happened.
    I had two main characters and I turned them into something else.

    Then I played with the remarks (kept the same lines mostly) and made the characters interact in a different way. New characters appeared.
    And some got killed.

    Without my knowing, almost.

    Why has this happened?
    I wondered.
    I'm in control of this story, aren't I?

    Then I looked back to the first, unchanged chapter. It had the main themes, it evoked what I wanted (more or less) , it had some mystery.
    So why changed it?
    Then I thought:

    What the hell.

    Might as well keep the New Chapter in, as something that happened in the past.

    You get a feel of the story from the start.
    Because I'm too lazy.

    Because I want to capture the reader from the first lines. Then after the killing ended, I was:

    well, this no longer makes sense.
    It was nicer before.

    My girlfriend says I'll never finish the book if I keep rewriting the first chapter.
    Last edited by Lord of the Drunk Penguin; April 21, 2019 at 07:59 AM.


  11. #11
    Cookiegod's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    Force yourself through that first draft once without going back too much.
    You won't have a clear idea what it is you exactly want until you have it.

    Don't worry, you'll still get to rewrite a lot. Except this time you'll get to do so more informed.

    Imagine yourself on some paths in some forest. You have no idea where you are. At some point you get to a fork, and don't know where to go. The worst choice is no choice, because that means you'll stay in the woods forever. Trust me. No one wants to stay in the woods forever.
    So pick a path and stick to it. I mean, what's the worst thing that can happen?
    A band of orks capture you and lecture you on the problematic racist stereotypes in your book before eating you raw?
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  12. #12
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    So, I had two characters, Stan & Ollie so to speak. They're kinda like the main viewpoints.
    I had them brought to this place, where other guys were serving this lord. But it made no sense for them to be there.

    so I rewrote it like this:
    they were rebels given clemency by the lord. And the other dudes hated them because they were outsiders.
    Conflict!
    Drama!

    Solved.

    Then I realized that in the process of rewriting, I (accidentally) created three stories.

    A) They were rebels but they killed everybody
    B) They were not rebels but belonged higher up in the hierarchy
    C) They were rebels reminiscing of the good old times

    I went with C) Reason: it provides more in-depth view on the social structure.
    I can show why these guys were given clemency in the first place.
    why the originals hate them.
    I can show all this, from the first chapter!

    Problem is:

    Action only makes sense with them full-on rebels, on a KILL MISSION.
    I thought it would be fun for them to enter a chapel of sorts, to make their mission even harder.
    Or useless, now that their target is already dead.

    And this isn't even the main story. It's just fluff.
    Star dust in the reader's eye.

    To get him captivated by the intrigues and intricacies of this world.
    Girlfriend says that I want to fit the whole book in just one chapter.

    No, I just like to touch a few themes integral to the story:

    honor, friendship, duty.

    That's it.


  13. #13
    Cookiegod's Avatar Campidoctor
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    I can tell you the solution, but that will cost you the soul and body of your firstborn child.
    .







    Quote Originally Posted by Derc View Post
    No one cares what Derc has to say.

  14. #14

    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    There is a lot of good advice already. Some of it is slightly contradictory, but that is because not all writers write this same way, which is also good to bear in mind. I.e. try all the things, and see which work for you (Cookiegod writes while drunk, I write while drinking, Derc does all things while drinking ). Now, to some more specific thoughts.

    One general point that might be useful is to consider the way you go about writing, from the physical side of things. Given that you seem to have a tendency to write and rewrite without moving forward (and that you want to change that trend), maybe consider writing your first draft with pencil and paper, and then transcribing it. Physical writing sort of makes you loathe to make huge changes to that first set of ideas, simply because it is a royal pain in the a**, and then you have your base material down. Then, in transcribing, you can do a whole load of edits to language and presentation without having even gotten close to doing a proper "rewrite". That is what I do, and I make a point of not touching my computer during any of that first round. If there are words I know are bad (i.e. I need my thesaurus) then I just circle them remind myself to look up another option during transcription. If I need to research some science or history, I just BS the first round and circle it, to remind myself to do that during transcription. If I need some words in another language but don't know that language... yep, you guessed it, I write "GREEK WORDS", circle it, and then look it up during transcription. That general method may be able to get you moving forward more without you being able to second-guess so much from the outset.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord of the Drunk Penguin
    So, I had two characters, Stan & Ollie so to speak. They're kinda like the main viewpoints.
    I had them brought to this place, where other guys were serving this lord. But it made no sense for them to be there.

    so I rewrote it like this:
    they were rebels given clemency by the lord. And the other dudes hated them because they were outsiders.
    Conflict!
    Drama!
    I think this may be a counterproductive way to go about things. You shouldn't be writing the scene just to have a scene with conflict and drama. Think about the overarching plot and where people need to go. At a very basic level most plots are simply going from A to B (sometimes in a metaphorical or emotional sense). So you know you're starting at A, and you need to get to B. Don't think about scenes that are interesting or that make some cool point, think about what comes right after A. If A is a port, are they taking the land route or the sea route? If sea, are they hiring a boat, merely going as simple passengers, buying a boat, etc.? Are they going through dangerous waters? Will they need to make detours?... There are a million things you'll need to think about just from the practical side of things (How do I get from A to B?), and those practicalities will provide with a wealth of interesting scenes. And hey, if some arc of passage is boring, then skip it. "May 2nd: boarded ship for Rotterdam. June 4th: arrived in Rotterdam" What happened in between, you ask... who cares! It was a ship passage. La. de. dah. Follow what is interesting, and don't try to create interest yourself. Action will arise naturally if you let it. I think in general you should just try to be less in control and let the story grow on its own, and see where it will lead you.

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord of the Drunk Penguin
    Might as well keep the New Chapter in, as something that happened in the past.
    Why? If the chapter doesn't fit, but it. It might be cool, and it might make some nice points, but then sell it as its own short story. Simply because you have a nice chapter is not reason for it to be in the book. It needs to fit organically and contribute to the overall work. When someone says "kill your darlings", you don't have to actually kill them, just take them out of the current piece. In fact, trying to keep things in because you like that detail can be doubly problematic, because not only is it (possibly) not necessary or out of place on its own, but if it really doesn't fit, then trying to fit it in will create additional problems. Let the story lead you, and cut the things that don't work there. If they're cool things, then set them aside for short stories that can be used to "pad" your world-building.

    Anyway, I have a million more thoughts, but I don't want to murder you with text, so I'll leave off here for now. At any rate, keep perusing the other threads here. There are some gems for a variety of topics, and a lot of other folks who have similar issues. So you're not alone!
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  15. #15
    Lord of the Drunk Penguin's Avatar Praefectus
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    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    First Chapter is starting to sound great now.
    I've kept the new fragment at the beginning and I've taken out some unnecessary characters.

    It's weird, like I feel this is big.
    Like a giant predator about to be born into this world.

    The story is inside, I just have to get it out.


  16. #16

    Default Re: Getting through the first chapters or how to stop second guessing yourself

    In my humble opinion, bugger with the first chapter. Have an outline and then get on with the story. The first chapter is a compliment that should build to what you have created, it is inefficient to design a story after its beginning as compared to designing the beginning after the story.

    Of course it is a matter of what works for you, but that's just my take on it. Pick up the thread and start sewing. You have thousands more to weave in once the fabric's gotten started.

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