I have the worst time with the beginnings of my books sometimes. There are times when it comes to me so completely formed that I don't end up changing much in rewrites, and other times when I rewrite the opening chapters three or four times. I am currently working on one of those books. 🙁
Here are the openings of two books that came to me pretty much as they are: Prince Voronov's Virgin** and The Devil's Heart. (At the top of the pages, hit the forward arrows and you can read the first chapters.)
I just knew they were right — and other than a few minor tweaks, they stayed that way. But this book. Yikes. (The last as well!) I wrote it one way and I was struggling to make forward progress. I was convinced it was a good setup (opened at a gloomy burial in a storm swept cemetery) and I was pushing it forward as hard as I could.
But it wasn't the set up that was wrong. It was the characters' deepest conflicts. My editor helpfully pointed that out when I sent her the first chapter. (Thank God!) I've learned that when I'm pushing it hard to make forward motion, and it's like trying to push Sisyphus's rock uphill, that I really should listen to my intuition. Because when I cut the cemetery, changed the characters' internal issues, and threw them together in a different setting, the story took off like a rocket. I know it's working when the words just keep coming, when I'm excited about what the characters will do next, and when I'm nervous and a bit overwhelmed that I'm not getting everything on the page. That means it's flowing naturally.
So listen to your internal voice. Often, she knows what she's talking about even if you don't understand why. If a section of the book is giving you hell, if you're struggling for every word and trying hard to make it work, you might be traveling a wrong path. Have the courage to cut what isn't working and go back to the fork in the road. Yesterday, I had to make another of those choices — I cut 2000 words — but it began to roll and I made it all up again very quickly.
Listen to the voice. It knows when you're messing it up on the subconscious level and just can't see it. Cutting is hard, starting over is hard, but don't be afraid to try it. Save the words in another file and you haven't really lost anything, have you?
**A huge shout out to my UK readers — in the two weeks it's been on sale, you've bought all the copies of Prince Voronov's Virgin that Mills & Boon had available on the website! And you've made PVV the #1 Mills & Boon bestseller for two weeks in a row! I'm thrilled and honored!