Why Are Beginnings So Hard?

The first draft is just telling yourself the story.

Terry Pratchett

Any first step is a tough go. First baby steps, first day at school, first date, first day at your first job. How about your first attempt at a new writing or word-processing program? At this stage of my life, the hardest firsts I grapple with are first lines. Yes, the dreaded story opener. The initial string of words laden with the responsibility of enticing then holding the reader. Big stuff. Important stuff. For all the deliberation and inescapable stress, a story’s first line is the best and worst part of writing for me.

The upside of crafting a not-so-perfect opening line or paragraph is the lack of permanence. It is not chiseled into stone. The words are not indelible and can be rewritten until they resonate within your heart. They may well serve as a doorway into the rest of the story, but we control who opens it and when. Beta readers get second crack after you’ve conducted rounds of editing. The target audience once you established not another word or phrase needs altering.

Therein lies the worst part of starting a story. As with crafting a fine piece of furniture, a beautiful sculpture, or a magnificent building, the finished product begins with a rough vision then requires skill and hours of patience to bring it to life. A painstaking process all around. Unlike those concrete objects, a writer’s efforts are hidden between the cover. Invisible until reader slips into the pages and ingests the words. Those opening lines or paragraphs create a crucial first impression. The author is painfully aware the goal is to snag the reader’s attention, hook them to continue.

An inability to craft a memorable, enticing, or curiosity generating opening in the first draft generates an anxiety that may well be at the centre of writer’s block. The self-imposed pressure paralyses the mind. Deflates the creative spirit. What we must keep at the forefront of our thoughts is that revision is a storyteller’s best friend. First impressions are a biased flash of insight into what’s to come. An alterable entity. Revision is a saving grace, capable of rendering the struggle with the first words inconsequential; of turning a mediocre novel into an unforgettable one.

By giving oneself permission to purge what bangs around in our head and heart upon the page with all its messy imperfections, we give ourselves permission to stifle the anxiety and unleash our creativity. Our most powerful work comes once we edit the daylights out of our rough draft. Be kind to your creative soul. As Terry Pratchett said: The first draft is just telling yourself the story. Wise words, sir. Thank you.

Thanks for listening. Cheers.

S.C. Roberts

2 thoughts on “Why Are Beginnings So Hard?

  1. Hey S.C. Brilliant first lines too often come as I’m falling asleep. Gone by morning if I don’t get out of bed and write it down…often the case. Right on about revision. Burries many a sin.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s