I hate to admit it, but I cringe whenever I hear an author say something like: the first few pages of my published novel are exactly as I first wrote them.


At the WIFYR conference, author Ally Condie was really brave and read us two versions of the first page of her upcoming novel, MATCHED. The first version was the original that she sent to her agent. And after hearing it, I thought it was pretty good and got us into the world. Then she read the first page from her ARC, the one that she revised for her editor, and it was AMAZING. Seriously, I was blown away with the vivid imagery and I felt like I was actually in the story.

And that made me start thinking . . . what if she had just stuck with the original?

I had a couple of friends who attended a workshop, and their instructor had them all revise the first chapter of their novel (after it had first been seriously torn apart in critique and they had then learned what elements should go in the first chapter). Out of 15 participants, 14 came back with a stronger first chapter.

Okay, I want to pause to say there are a FEW exceptions out there. Those are the moments when our writer’s voice, combined with years of work and personal talent, hit that exact moment where it all comes together in that first draft. Carrie Ryan’s first few pages of THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH are exactly like that. Even in that workshop, the ratio was 14:1–though I am not suggesting that is a perfect ratio for all writers. I am actually saying most of us are on the 14 side — I know I am!

So here is your chance. Take your first page (or first chapter) and PASTE A COPY IN A NEW WORD DOC. Believe me that the new element helps. Now go to town on your chapter. What would you like to explore? Tear it apart and make it something new and fresh. Look beyond each sentence to the scene as a whole to see how you can make it stronger. You could even try it from a new point of view or a new scene altogether. Don’t be afraid to experiment, because you still have your saved original on your hard drive. See what you can turn out, and push yourself beyond what you think you can do.

Just tell yourself: I can write better!

10 thoughts on “you can write better

  1. Perfect timing! I’ve been trying to revise my first chapter and I’d be lying if I said the effort wasn’t killing me slowly. Thanks for the encouragement!

  2. First, that cover is amazing! I think your challenge is a really good one. I did that with the MS I’m querying now and after YEARS of havin that first chapter the same, It felt really good to switch it up. Not only did that first chapter get stronger, it breathed new life into the MS as a whole. I highly recommend it!

  3. My first chapter has changed multiple times, and I can definitely say that the biggest, strongest change happened exactly like that: after a conference where our instructor pushed us to rethink. My original one had lots of imagery and voice, but it was the WRONG imagery and voice for my character — too cutesy, too middle grade. But even now that it’s better, I hope that I can still make it amazing at some point, whether on my own or with an agent or editor’s help!

  4. I am so excited to read that book! And it was really amazing to see the difference, although I too thought the first version was pretty good. I guess it just goes to show that good enough never is!

Comments are closed.