"He yanked the steel knobs of the tap and frantically scrubbed his blood-stained hands under the gush of cold water."
This is the first line of my novel. This is the big one, the opener, the selling point, the seductive temptress just waiting to lure an excitable and curious potential reader with a bit of cash in their pocket towards the till with a copy of my beautiful book lodged firmly in their hand. This line is the first glimpse of my pride and joy that said potential reader will see while flicking through the paperback section in their local bookshop (maybe even the bestseller section, imagine that?! No - stop daydreaming Sinead!)
This line, in all it's glory, has taken three and a half years to write and yes folks, I'm STILL not happy with it! Don't panic either - I have written four chapters and the prologue of my book, not just this one line. I'm not a complete hopeless case!
I'd guess that I have re-written this line about 20 times and I'll probably have changed it again before the night is out. Every time I look at it I see something I could change, be it a grammar alteration or even an insertion of dialogue. It's quite annoying because I basically can't open up my novel without seeing that first line and sitting there for five minutes wondering how I should change it. And even when I leave it and continue writing the rest of the book, my mind always wanders back to that first line with a niggling feeling that reminds me that if my first line sucks, then no one will stick around and wait for me to prove how amazingly brilliant and creative the rest of the story is (Because my story is amazingly brilliant and creative, I promise. You'll stay around to find that out, won't you??).
The funny thing is that I don't ever see the need to change many other lines in the book. Normally when I'm on a roll with the writing I'll just write reams of stuff - straight from the murky depths of my brain to the page without much editing in between. I hate editing paragraphs and chapters that I've already written so I usually tend to avoid it! But for some reason that elusive first line refuses to give me peace and like an addict, I eventually succumb to the cravings and get my fix...
My problem therefore is clearly a problem that I never thought I would have: I'm a perfectionist. Well, I'm a perfectionist when it comes to the first line of my book. Not so much after that. In fact, I'm not much of a perfectionist in any other area of my life. I've never been competitive: I never got the best exam results in class (my results were good - just not top of the class!). The boyfriend and I moved in together last year and it has taken us 18 months to get the front of the house completed. Because neither of us are perfectionists. We're both "Meh" people who graduated with honours from the school of "If it ain't broke don't fix it". Well maybe not honours, but I'm pretty sure we passed anyway...
Anyway, the point is that I don't understand why this one line constantly torments and bothers me. Every time I see that first line, it's almost like it's taunting - ridiculing me! Burning a hole in the screen of my lovely (new!) netbook! Sometimes it even puts me off writing, because I'll open up Microsoft Word, open up my novel document and spend so long staring furiously at that first line that I end up convinced that no one in the world will want to read the rest of my book after reading a first line like that. My God, I'm a perfectionist and neurotic. I'm finding a lot of things out about myself through this blog!
And then I wondered (I'm feeling very Carrie Bradsdhaw-esque write now, asking rhetorical questions aloud at my screen, as I tap away at the keyboard, mug of tea in my free hand!) if I will ever be happy with this line. Have I given it too much importance - maybe more than it's worth? The reality is that I cannot see myself ever having a "Eureka" moment with my first line (as I did with David in my last post!) and this unsettles me greatly. But should I be spending so much time on this line or should I just cut my losses, accept the line and the possibility that some day I'll be happy with it, move on with the rest of the book and pray that any potential agents/editors don't spend as long studying it as I have?
Is any writer ever really 100% happy with their finished (or unfinished) manuscript? Maybe the first line for me is similar to a sort of Achilles Tendon problem - it seems to be a weakness for me and maybe it'll never be amazing but if I can compensate with other areas, then on a whole it's not so bad. Maybe it's just about accepting the uncertain and imperfect nature of writing, taking a leap of faith and trusting myself (and my first line!).
On that note, I think I'm going to make more tea, take a deep breath, open up my novel on the netbook and start typing. And I will try my absolute hardest not to stare too much at that first line - but I can't make any promises!!