This paper presents a procedural approach to derive nonlinear filters from schematics of audio circuits for the purpose of digitally emulating analog musical effects circuits in real time. This work, the first in a two-part series, extends a well-known efficient nonlinear continuous-time state-space formulation for physical modeling of musical acoustics to real-time modeling of nonlinear circuits. Rules for applying the formulation are given, as well as a procedure to derive simulation parameters automatically from circuit netlists. Furthermore, a related nonlinear discrete-time state-space algorithm is proposed to alleviate problems in solving particular circuit configurations. These methods were devised to solve non-convergence problems in the simulation of strongly saturated, nonparametric guitar distortion circuits such as the saturating diode clipper, which is presented as an example derivation. Experimental considerations and sonic performance on various other circuits will be presented in a subsequent paper.