Monday 13 August 2012

On your marks...set...write!

To begin at the beginning…
Well, that’s easier said than done, Dylan, old lad. 

Most writers starting out on the long journey of creating a new novel are daunted by how (and where) to open their story. At what point do you start the tale? Do you leap into the action in the hope of grabbing the reader by the throat, rationalising with yourself that you’ll be able to wring the backstory out of your characters as you go along, or do you go back a bit, carefully setting things up with clever hooks to tantalise the reader enough that they will have no choice but to read on.
Writer’s block (for me, at least) is what happens when you struggle too much on finding the right words rather than getting on with the process of simply creating, and this is never more so than when starting a new book.
I have come to learn that you can’t wait for the perfect beginning. I used to do just that, and I would feel a rising sense of bewilderment and frustration when I couldn’t come up with the best possible start for a story. That way madness lies. 

There is no point gazing at that blinking cursor in the top left corner of a blank page, refusing to go on until you get the opening paragraphs of your work absolutely nailed. Instead, you must learn to write on, trusting that the revision process will resolve any issues you have. It’s not easy – doubts constantly nag at you, and the overwhelming desire is to keep going back and change things, especially those pesky first few chapters. Do yourself a big favour and try to overcome this. If you are really struggling, forget the beginning altogether and write from the middle outwards. Get that first draft under your belt, and accept that it is flawed – maybe painfully so. I read somewhere that great writing comes from revision, not creation, and I truly believe this to be the case. Only with a first draft completed can you really go about making your story come to life and come up with that elusive, enthralling opening.

To begin at the beginning? Not necessarily, but begin you must. 


Sue Purkiss said...

Absolutely, Steve. Another consolatory thought is that a perceptive editor will often look at a story and tell you to lose the first chapter because it just slows everything down. So if it's probably going to go anyway, there's really not much point in getting stuck on it!

Penny Dolan said...

How my writings elf recognises the feeling behind that drawings of the seated man. Was just going to write "I so agree that beginning is hard but then I thought "Well, the rest isn't exactly easy either."

But easier when actually you have something down, even when imperfect. Thanks for the post, Steve.

Steve Feasey said...

Penny - I really wanted you to have a writing elf (maybe whispering story ideas into your ear at night). Then I saw the s (damn!).
Thanks for the comment.
S ;)

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