I've written for a year now(ish) and I've come along some great ideas I'd like to form into existence.

But I always, always, ALWAYS have one problem. I can't seem to get past the first chapter or even the first 1,000 words! I sit down with my laptop, a fresh, blank, bleak white sheet. Within minutes I begin writing a sentence, then it builds to a paragraph. Then another paragraph. I quickly... run out of ideas for the first chapter. I read through the text and decide what I've written is horrid! Horrible! Awful! Even if I was thinking what I wrote was great when I wrote it. So when I think it's awful I just give up and start over. That's my daily writing routine. Has anybody else felt this way, or experienced this? Am I doing something wrong, am I not doing anything that I should be doing? Should I be trying amy other techniques such as starting at chapter 20 or etc.

It's really annoying when I just want to write and get a story done. I want to, experience my characters, and ideas.

Thank you, -ANM

  • 1
    Whenever I feel like this, I tell myself that even though my writing might be awful, my strength is plotting. Story ideas. Developments. Twists. However, these only emerge when my story gets longer. So I tell myself to keep writing until I can see the things that I'm actually good at, and that it's only natural that my story feels bad if I've not yet gotten to the part that I'm good at.
    – B Altmann
    Commented Dec 15, 2017 at 12:58

4 Answers 4


Normally when I start writing a story, there is a moment with a character or a specific line that inspired me to start thinking about the story. I then focus on that specific moment and figure out how to get to the dialogue or the moment I envisioned.

Sometimes I start writing the chapter and I never actually write the sentence or the event that I imagined, but it's because I went in a different direction and felt a different flow while writing it. Sometimes I keep it and sometimes I decide my original idea was better and go back and tweak it. But the most important thing to do is to get all of the words out, on a page. You will make sense of them later, but leave good notes for yourself!

In regards to good notes, it is super useful if you have an outline or at least an idea for the trajectory of the story, then you can hop around in the chapters and write what you feel most inspired to write. As you near the completion of the novel, you will fill in the gaps.

Stephen King in his book "On Writing" says that it is critical to get the first draft done as soon as possible. The editing part is the part to drag out. He seems to feel that his ideas die or that he loses interest if they are not completed in a certain amount of time.

In short, don't focus so much on writing chronologically. Sometimes you write a chapter and expect it to be the fifth chapter, but later on you realize what a great first chapter it would be, or tenth chapter. If you have a lot of ideas but aren't sure how to connect them, write each scene on a notecard so that you can rearrange them. I did that with my fantasy novel and it was super duper helpful.

  • 1
    +1 for mentioning Stephen King's observation about finishing the first draft quickly. Not the same thing, but related. In an interview following their first album (eponymous), Fountains of Wayne (Adam and Chris) said their approach to songwriting was this: They'd meet in a bar, suggest an idea for a song, write it there in the moment, then record it as fast as possible. The point of recording quickly was a hope that their excitement for the song, something intangible and impossible to fake and which fades with time, would also be captured. I have tested this and also believe it to be true.
    – elrobis
    Commented Dec 20, 2017 at 15:10

There are a few problems that come to mind when I see this.

A) The problem you seem to have is not able to fully stretched out the entire detail of the story. Without a clear plan, you will struggle to write.

B) The Editor revising problem.

Answer for A) I will give you a few approaches that I've learnt thus far.

1) Method from Brandon Sanderson (Author for mainly Fantasy) -Think of all the cool moments you want to have -Build your story to achieve those goals (3 Act format, or any other story structure) -Check to ensure all holes/requirements are met to achieve those goals ^You can refer in detail from his website (http://brandonsanderson.com/), I'm just giving a rough summary / outline of it.

2) My own method -Outline the story -Start from beginning and End of the story. Branch out from either side or from the middle depending on where the ideas are strongest -Fill up the scenes with the needed dialogues if unable to describe, follow afterwards.

Answer for B) Don't revise until at least you complete the chapter. Preferably when the entire story is done. When you revise, make sure that the key decisions / styles of your story is maintained, not at a whim of the day.

Hope this helps.


It sounds as though you are expecting your first draft to not be horrid.

I discovered in college that the beautiful poetry I wrote, and that I would proudly thumbtack to bulletin boards around campus as soon as it was done, was magical poetry. It was truly magical. I know this, because when I saw it the very next day, it had transmogrified into something hideous and vapid.

Every time. Writing magical poetry is one of my superpowers.

However, this is a very common superpower.

The advantage of learning that I wrote horribly, was that it lowered my expectations. You may (or may not) have written something horrid, I don't know, but I do see a lot of horrid writing. A lot of it is on my laptop.

Plan to write 1000 more horrid words, or perhaps two chapters, and make your goal "I am going to force myself to realize that first drafts suck." You will be in good company. Then, after 100 words (or whatever length, a couple chapters, something - ) go back and rework it. Move stuff around. Change the telling to showing, Play with point of view. Elaborate on back story, or subtext, or double entendre. Look for repetitive structure or bad grammar.

I'm on my 6th revision now. Hurray! My characters are developing nicely. It turns out they had all sorts of stuff going on that I didn't know about in draft 1. Oh, and draft 1 was actually the second start to the story - the protagonist changed dramatically from my first stab to my second.


Yes, you are doing something wrong.

Typically the first thing you think of for a story is not where a story should start, because story ideas begin with big dramatic moments, reveals, discoveries, and so on. The idea for a story is often a turning point for a character, and that is not how to start a story.

For example, an author imagines a person that learns they can teleport themselves exactly as far as their outstretched fingertip, in any direction. No more, no less. For the author, this is an exciting idea, a very limited superpower, what will the character do with it? They imagine some scenes: Use it in fighting a bully. Use it for a bank robbery. What happens if something is already in that spot? How does the character FIRST learn about this power? Is there really any MORE to it? Can it be restrained? Can you teleport out of ropes and handcuffs? If you can, why don't you teleport out of your clothing, because what's the difference between ropes and cuffs, and your watch or shoes with laces or your underwear?

This is a good imaginative path (for any idea you find cool), and THAT is what you should be writing down, those questions for yourself and deciding answers on the gem of this idea.

But it would be a mistake to open Chapter 1 with Bobby finding out she can teleport. Nobody cares, nobody cares about Bobby yet, nobody is interested in her. Is she an evil bitch, or a happy friend? Is she bullied, or a bully? We need to get to know her as a normal person, so we are interested in what she will do with this superpower. Her discovery of her superpower is more like the "changing moment" in Act I, (read about the Act structure, or read my other answers Here and Here.)

So that should be 10% to 15% of the way through the story, first you must introduce your characters, your villain, your 'world' setting (be it a fantasy land or modern day Brooklyn), etc. You need to show the 'normal world' of your main character, and THEN the inciting incident that changes their world occurs after all that is described. That incident can be anything life-changing: Harry Potter meets Hagrid and discovers he is going to Hogwarts at 10%, at 15% he is boarding a magic train to literally a new world.

What you are doing wrong is most likely hurrying, trying to write prose when you should be thinking about your characters.

Whether you plot or not is a personal choice. I don't. When I write I have an ending in mind, and I have written notes on what it should be (not any prose).

But I can change that, if my story and characters veer off while I am writing, I am always conscious of whether I can still reach my planned ending: If not, I must come up with a new ending that is still plausible, or undo what I wrote that demanded a different ending.

(I don't force my characters, heroes or villains, to do stupid things in order to force the outcome as success or failure. As I write the scene, I try to make each do the smartest thing based on their knowledge of the situation and each other. If that results in a failure for the heroes, so be it. I think readers easily detect when the confrontation is rigged to make a specific outcome, and (to me as a reader) it makes the story boring, a long series of deus ex machina and implausibly fortunate coincidences.)

I do always have a 'next step' in the three act structure that I am writing toward, broken roughly on 5% boundaries. Assuming I will write 100,000 words, with 250 words per page, I know where I should be in the story within 20 pages or so (or within 5000 words, depending on how you format your pages when you are writing).

If you need to jump into the best part first, write the middle of Act I or the end of Act I first. Just know that you need to go back and fill in your intro, characters (hero[es], villain[s], sidekick[s]), and world based on that, and how they CAME to the part you wrote. After that, you will probably want to rewrite what you wrote first, perhaps even scrap it and start over. Writing can be very much a process of discovering the real story as you go. Your first ideas are in there, but while writing you (or at least I) come to see, "Aha, this is what my hero is really about, what they really want and believe in, and this is what my villain really wants."

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