I've been thinking a lot about beginnings lately, mainly because I've recently found myself in a situation in my personal life I didn't ever expect to be in. (On a related note, I apologize for the blog silence--and happy to be back)
The first 5 pages of your manuscript are the most important. They're what the agent/editor is going to read right after your query letter. But beginnings are something that we've all struggled with as writers.
There's nothing quite like writing the opening pages of a new project. (Except maybe finishing it!) The idea is just a seed a first, something that's lodged in your brain. You let it sit there for a while, until sure enough it starts to take root. Now you have to get it down on paper, and the words can't come fast enough. You don't know the meaning of writer's block--you just wrote your first 5 pages in as many minutes. Piece of cake.
Now the real work begins. It's one thing to have a ton of ideas, but now you have to structure them, weave them into a masterpiece. Things can happen during this process. New ideas pop up that may require rewriting entire chapters or adding entirely new story threads. Characters that were intended as supporting cast may insist on taking center stage. There are all kinds of wonderful, unexpected turns that happen during the novel-writing process.
But now you have a problem. Those first few pages that launched this whole project--the beginning you'd scribbled down so fervently months before--just doesn't seem to work anymore. The tone seems off now that you have a different ending, and doesn't the dialogue seem a little stiff now that you've had 200 pages to nail your characters' voices?
But this was THE beginning. The one that set you on this whole crazy undertaking that is writing a novel. It was love at first "write" and you've read those words over to yourself so many times that you could probably recite it from memory. Why mess with a good thing?
Sometimes we become blind to whether something we wrote actually works, or if we are so used to seeing it on the page month after month that it never occurs to us that there may be a need for improvement. And when there are months of brainstorming, writing, rewriting, and rewriting again between page 1 and page 200, the answer is almost always that there is room for improvement. The question is whether the problems can be fixed with some mere retooling, or if we have to let go completely and start from scratch. That's when we need to take a step back and look at it with a fresh and objective eye.
And hopefully, things will become a little clearer.