A birth. First day of school. A new job. A wedding. Beginnings are hopeful times. A clean slate with infinite possibilities. Yes, beginnings are awesome.
Unless you're a writer staring at a blank page.
When I type the beginning of a new story, it sounds something like this:
Tap, tap, tap, delete, delete, delete;
Tap, tap, tap, click, block text, right click, cut;
Tap backspace, tap, tap ;
Tap, tap, , ctrl-A, delete.
Sound poetic? It is in a tragic sort of way because soon my mind is on other things, like how I will move all of my furniture and family into a cardboard box under a dark and lonely bridge. I don't know any publications that pay writers for a blank piece of paper. If you do, please e-mail me and put me out of my misery.
I keep thinking that writing an exciting opening will just happen the first time I try, but it hasn't so far. Why? Because it's too much pressure. If my reader doesn't get involved in the first paragraph, she or he is on to the next story. No matter how much I toil and sweat over the middle and the end, I'm keenly aware that I'll lose my audience without an interesting lead.
And of course, I'm being optimistic even saying that, because in the beginning I must hook my editor. If I don't, my story is not even going to appear in print for a reader to ignore.
So, how do I create a great beginning to a story? Well, after my tapping, sighing and groaning session is finished, I usually tell my annoying internal editor "thanks, but no thanks," and cram her into my overflowing file cabinet. Then I just write. I unleash the tornado of words and ideas and let them scatter across the screen with lightening speed and I don't stop to reread them.
For example, I wrote a story about my stepson Austin. I wanted to talk about what a great kid he is, but it was hard to find a starting point. So I started my first draft at the beginning: "I was born at St. Francis Hospital in Beech Grove, Indiana on May 12, 1962 to Dorothy and Max Carr."
Well, okay, I didn't actually start at that particular beginning. But wanting to educate my readers, I gave all kinds of background information so that they would know where I'm coming from. My chronological list was a boring recitation of facts because I was afraid the reader wouldn't "get it" otherwise. All history and little action, no emotion, no dialogue -- if I would have sent the manuscript to the magazine that way, no readers.
But going through this process always snaps me to my senses when I begin the second draft. This time, I let my internal editor out and read through my manuscript and, TA DA, a beginning always arises from it, usually somewhere in the middle. So I do a click, block text, right click, cut and get rid of all of the text I wrote before my TA DA moment. And the ensuing sigh is a sigh of relief and not one of frustration. I don't need all that history to tell the story, but writing the history helps jog my memory about the when, what, where, how and who I do want to write.
If you're having trouble getting started, just sit down and write. When you get to the action, the dialogue, the humor, the tears, you've found your great beginning.
As for me, I'm keeping my eye on the refrigerator box under the overpass at the Market Street ramp to downtown Indianapolis. If I ever see it's occupants, I might have to stop and ask my burning question, "were you a writer before you moved here?" But that's another story, and my column on great beginnings is now at the end.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barbara Carr Phillips, journal instructor, believes dreams come true when you learn to journal your way to success. Visit http://journalworkshops.com to order
By: Barbara Carr Phillips
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