To Begin at the Beginning, Or Not to Begin at the Beginning? Question of the Day

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?

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jenny maloney View All →

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.

3 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Fiddling is great. I know that's been part of my problem recently. Trying too hard to focus on THAT ONE PROJECT THAT MUST BE FINISHED OR ELSE. So fiddling has commenced. Minor results, but results.

    Hmm. Code names. You mean like MMG and TKoS? Part of it, for me, is to keep a little something to myself (and the Pirates) and part is that it just saves typing the whole thing out.

  2. Tough one. I have stuff that's percolating now, and I'd like to just let it simmer, but can't. At least not too long–someone's waiting to see what I've cooked up.

    I think percolating is good, but there's always that danger of the whole thing losing steam. Sometimes you gotta just sit in a quiet corner and force yourself to figure it out.

    All this talk of simmering makes me feel hungry… 🙂

  3. Deb–Results is good! Keep it goin'!

    Fleur–I think it also depends on how well you know yourself as a writer. For example, are you someone who, once you put something on the back burner it just, well, burns and fizzles? Or do you know you'll get back to it?

    I know that I'll get back to the Top Secret thingy–mostly because it's just too cool and, I'm going to fiddle with it so it won't exactly be backseat. So I feel safe working on tL because it's been percolating for a while and is now ready to go.

    Plus, I don't have all those pushy people demanding food like soooooome rockin' people. 😉

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