Agonizing over your first words? Unsure of how your article or letter should start? Can’t come up with a good title? Don’t worry about it – yet. Newspaper reporters don’t write headlines while out on the beat. Their editors do, back in the office. Great novelists usually don’t sit down and launch immediately into brilliant words such as, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” (Charles Dickens) or even, “It was a dark and stormy night” (Edward Bulwer-Lytton). The faster horse may not be the first one out of the gate. The first horse out the gate may not be the winner. No, starting out is hard for everyone.
So what should you do when you don’t know how to begin at the beginning? Start writing wherever you can start. Start writing wherever you feel comfortable. Many magazine writers rarely write the introduction first, and they almost never write the title first.
The first words they write may simply be an introduction for their own use, an introduction into their day’s writing task, a springboard into the rest of the article. The first words they write may not even appear in the final article. After all, writing garbage is a good way to kick-start your writing habit. When the article is finished, they can now write an introduction with the confidence of knowing exactly what it’s supposed to be introducing.
Fiction writing can work the same way. For example, maybe you’re obsessed with an idea for a novel about a music critic who becomes the unwilling object of a rock star’s affections, but aren’t sure how to start it. So what part are you sure about? Maybe it’s a later conversation in the musician’s hotel room after a concert. If you can picture a scene, you can probably write about it. Or start with any part that’s exciting to you.
You can always change it or completely rewrite it later, but as you write, it will give you ideas for more chapters. Maybe, once you’ve finish writing about that conversation, you’ll have a better idea about how to write a chapter about their first meeting. Or even, how to write the first chapter.
One reason why many writers don’t start at the beginning is that the beginning is so very important. Readers may not judge a book by its cover, but they often judge it by the back cover (which most novelists don’t write anyway), or its title or its first paragraph. That’s why editors often have strong opinions about book titles and first paragraphs. Don’t be in a rush to finish the most important part. Maybe after you’ve finished the end of the book, you’ll be more qualified to write the beginning.