I was once in a (rather meta) play* that opened with Character A stepping onstage and saying loudly, “BEGINNINGS.” A pause. “BeGINNINGS.” Another pause. Character A is visibly nervous now. “Beginnings!” he calls out desperately.
Character B enters. “Beginnings are…difficult,” he says. And so the scene progresses, with Characters A, B, C, D (that was me!) and E trying to decide where, exactly, to begin their play.
This is sometimes how I feel when starting a new piece of writing, or even starting back up in the middle of a work. I get too caught up in how readers will engage with my first sentence, my first word. Am I drawing them in fast enough? Am I dropping them into the action too quickly? Will they keep reading out of excitement to see what happens next? Or will it be more like desperation and disbelief that anyone could be so foolish as to start off a story this way?
Of course, beginnings are important. They are the first impression on the reader. But I can get to all that in revision. What matters during the first steps of the writing process is how I get hooked into the story. If I agonize over the perfect opener to show my still-hypothetical readers, I may not be able to get myself interested enough to interact with the characters and generate more story. I’ll just sit there trying to reinvent the wheel. And yet that’s exactly what I find myself doing whenever I’m faced with that blinking cursor on a new, blank page.
So then what?
As the Storyteller in Arabian Nights (my favorite miniseries/movie) puts it:
Begin at the beginning, go on to the end, then stop.
Lewis Carroll said something similar in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but the sentiment is the same. Just start. It’s okay to jump in wherever it feels most natural, wherever the story begins for me. It may end up getting scrapped completely, reworked, or even kept exactly the same when revision rolls around. But I’ll never reach that stage of revision if the story doesn’t get written.
How do you get the ball rolling on a new story? What about when you’re picking up where you left off the day before? Let me know in the comments!
*PS – the play was called Highly Theatrical Terms, if you want to check it out!