“Left alone, Monty lost no time in spreading paper on the table, taking up the pen and dipping it in the ink. So far, so good. But now, as so often happened when he started to write to the girl he loved, there occurred a stage wait. He paused, wondering how to begin.” P.G.W describing the character Monty’s difficulty in starting a letter to his one true love in The Luck of the Bodkins
Isn’t it always the way? You’ve pulled up your paper and pen (or, thankfully nowadays, your trusty laptop) and you long to start whatever it is that you’re going to write: an email, a novel, a short story, play, whatever. And then…nothing. Just a second ago you had the perfect opening line. You knew the images you wanted to invoke in the reader’s mind.
About a paragraph later in Luck of the Bodkins, Monty starts, but he starts badly. I mean, should you start a letter to your One True Love: “My Darling Old Egg”? (Here’s a hint boys: No.)
Maybe you’ve just started a novel or short story. Maybe you’re just writing an email to a pal. Either way, if you want to get to the good stuff in the middle, you’ve got to write the beginning, right? Some writers skip to the middle and write the images in their head.
I am not one of those writers, I have to know what happens beforehand or something in the scene I’m writing doesn’t feel right. Recently, I’ve decided to mix that up.
I’ve been working (very slowly) on what I like to call my Top Secret Project. But I’ve run into a problem. And that problem is the beginning. The first chapter has to do some pretty extraordinary things, and I’m feeling the pressure. For the past couple weeks I’ve told myself to suck it up, appreciate that the beginning is bad, and move on to the other stuff. Days and days and days of working on this. Writing words only to delete them, only to put them back again.
My reaction? Fuck it. I’m skipping to the middle. And then I’m going to skip around again. And again and again. Then I’ll assemble it all like a jigsaw.
My co-reaction is to work on another project that I have clearer in my head: a project I’m calling The Line (Codename: tL). I will fiddle with the Top Secret Project while I work with more focus on tL. Fiddling always gets good results. I think Top Secret Project needs percolating time–so, to the back burner it goes!
Do you guys fiddle while working on other things? Do you have codenames for your WIPs? How much percolating is necessary for you to get the right depth of flavor for your piece?
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.