"If you could say one thing to aspiring novelists, what would you say?"
No question about it: the first line, the first paragraph, the first scene, the first chapter really matter. But when you're writing the first draft, don't get bogged down trying to make those things perfect. Chances are very good you are going to throw out that first chapter!
When I begin a novel, I don't know the characters yet and aren't entirely sure of how the story is going to unfold. No matter how much characterization and plotting I do, I still don't know these people until I spend time with them and hear what they have to say. Once I know them better, I often go back and change their dialogue in the early chapters, sometimes overhauling scenes completely. And yes, sometimes throwing out the first chapter. Even the second.
Furthermore, first drafts of first chapters are often bogged down with backstory that belongs many chapters later, as a revelation. All the more reason not to get obsessive about those opening lines and opening pages, because they are bound to change.
I've been known to write the first chapter last, when I know my characters and story intimately. Same thing with opening sentences. So, be encouraged: that amazing opening line may come to you mid-book. In the meantime, just keep writing!
--Liz Curtis Higgs, Best-selling author of Grace in Thine Eyes. Currently writing Here Burns My Candle. Visit her online at her website here.