As I continue to learn about the writing process, I'm always excited when I hear a piece of advice for the millionth time. It means that piece of advice is probably pretty accurate.
I had this experience at a recent seminar that was filled with people who really hadn't even written a single word of fiction yet. I wish I had heard this piece of advice when I was just starting out, because it is perfect and true.
"In your first draft, your story probably doesn't really start until chapter four."
Or chapter seven. Or, in my most recent first draft, I'm pretty sure it was chapter fourteen. But that's okay, because that's what, as Anne Lamott calls them, shitty first drafts are for.
They're for feeling out your character, finding your voice, edging your way into the story. But, as you revise, you have to be able to lift away the muck that was your warming up writing and yank it out of the story. Get that gunk out of there. Delete it. Or, if you're like me, save it in a different precious little Word document so you can always go back and grab those words if you need them. Another piece of advice: you'll probably never need them.
It's hard to take a hatchet to your book. But your story will be better served if you can get right down to it sooner. So write away. Then as you revise, take a close look at where things really start shaking, and let your story begin there.