November 1, 2009
It’s November. Time to start writing. But where to start.
There is, of course, the King’s advice in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop." Although this might be good advice in many areas of our lives, it may get in the way of writing your book. I hope you’ll stop your book long before the end, but today let’s concentrate on the beginning.
The reader needs to start at the beginning. Your book needs to start at the beginning. You don’t, however, need to start at the beginning when you are writing your book. You can. I’m just saying you don’t have to.
I know people who write from the beginning knowing that they will throw out the first fifty pages and write them again. They use those first fifty pages to find their voice and set their direction. This is the launch they need that propels them on to the end of the book. Once they get to the end they go back to the beginning and fix their first attempt.
When Donald Sutherland was a guest on "Inside the Actor’s Studio" he said that he preferred to work in movies that don’t film the first scene first. He explained that he’s still figuring out his character in those early days. If audience sees those moments in the middle of the movie they don’t notice — they’re already involved in the story. But if the audience sees those moments at the beginning of the movie they might never buy in.
The other problem with beginning at the beginning is you spend a lot of time thinking of all the things you need to tell your readers before you get to the good stuff. So why not make a deal with yourself: assume you’ve told them all they need to know and start writing the good stuff. You can always come back later and fill in holes.
Whatever you do, start typing or writing down words. There’s nothing as imposing as an empty page or text document. Eighty pages this month. Try to write at least four pages today.
This post originally appeared in the Pragmatic Life blog.