Take it easy. There’s absolutely no onus upon you to sit down at the word processor, stare at the screen in silent contemplation, then bash out the most amazing first line in the history of fiction.
The key is to have already finished the first draft. With the first draft under your belt, you know where your story is going, what pace you want it to achieve and who your characters are. Don’t go back to start doctoring anything until you’ve got that.
Then put it on the shelf. Forget about it. If it’s a short story, a week or two is usually enough. For a novel, give it at least a month. Go do other things. Write different stories, write non-fiction, watch films and get drunk. Just don’t so much as sneak a peak at your shelved work.
When you come back to it:
- Pretend someone else wrote it.
- Ask yourself how you would improve on this piece of writing from this other author.
Read it slowly, carefully. Let the words sink in. Read it as you would a story that you had paid good money for. Remember that you’re going to provide constructive criticism, not discover fuel for some haze of self-loathing.
Once your notes are made, work on a new copy of your story. Try to keep your changes trackable over time, because if your self-editing gets a little overenthusiastic, you want to have something to go back to.
Assess the words that you have written, not only individually or as sentences, but within the context of the words and sentences that surround them. Find replacements for repeated words. Look at other ways of phrasing sentences. Ask whether or not there is another way to say what you are trying to say. Lose flabby words that bog the reader down. If there is anything that does not propel the story (and thus the reader) onwards, lose it.
Of course, once your opening paragrah is perfect, you have to do the same with your second, third, fourth… Every single word in your story must serve the story.
So with that in mind, I invite you to leave your opening paragraphs in the comments for this thread, and I will show you how it’s done.
Go ahead. Don’t be afraid. If you want to get published, you’ll have to face an editor sooner or later. Might as well get the hang of it now.