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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Getting Down the First Line

One of the toughest writing obstacles I once faced was getting down the first line.

It didn’t matter if it was a 300-word blog post or the beginning of what I hoped to be a 30,000-word novel, I struggled with the opening, with how to get the words started. And then one day, in a fit of frustration, I gave up. And in the process, beat my first line demons. And I’m going to share what I did (and continue to do), because I so often hear writers complain about staring at the blank page, not knowing how or where to begin.

Are you ready to get your mind blown? Stand back, now. Here goes: Just start writing.

I know it sounds simple, and you’re sitting there, reading that little tip and wanting to smack me. But it really is that simple. Write. Write anything you can think of related to what you want to say—and worry about the beginning when you’re done.

That’s not to say that I don’t have the occasional Eureka! moment when my brain comes up with a massively brilliant beginning. But usually, my first line is just something I throw out there, something to get the words flowing because I hate wasting time. So, I pick a starting point and go from there. When I’ve finished, I’ll go back and edit.

And here’s my first-line, mind-blowing bit, Part II. More often than not, I only have to tweak the first line or the beginning so that it bookends with my ending. Honestly. It’s rare that I dump the entire opening paragraph (although I do occasionally start a story at the wrong beginning, but that’s a post for another day).

I’m not a writing psychologist, but I have a theory. Once I’ve taken the pressure off, given myself permission to write an imperfect first line, my brain relaxes, and I end up writing a pretty decent beginning sentence.

It works for me. It can work for you. So no more excuses. If you’ve got a wonderful idea for a novel, a short story, an article, a blog post, even a picture book, just start writing. A terrific first line will come—sooner or later.

~Cathy C. Hall


  1. Anonymous5:23 AM

    Loved this. I think of it as, and excuse the crude visual, throwing up my first line. I have to just spit it out, and get it on paper, THEN I can proceed. A lot of times it is as the image implies. But you're right, it can be cleaned up and fixed.

  2. I have this problem too. What I now try is to scroll my list of writing prompts and choose the best-sounding starter and go from there. I don't have to keep it either.

  3. So true - just start writing! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Are you doing NaNo? Well, if you are, I want to know what your first line is...(I'll share mine if you share yours.)

  5. Me? No, I'm not doing NaNo this year.

  6. I agree and have let myself start wherever I felt I had something good, or on a part that felt most doable, when writing an article. Whatever gets something on the page to get a first draft going!

  7. Oh writers--we will find any excuse in the book not to write, right? "I don't know how to start. . ."

  8. I'm actually the opposite. Usually I have a sentence stuck in my head that I know is the opening line--something so strong or powerful I just know a story needs to be written around it. The hard part for me is writing the rest! Maybe I should start a business where I come up with the first line for writers. LOL

  9. DO it, Angela! (Or maybe offer a daily first line to email subscribers. Writers don't pay until they make a sale--THEN, you get a percentage of royalties!)

  10. When I taught English and had classes journal, many students would say, "I don't know where to start."

    My response - just start writing. Something. Anything. Even write 'I don't know what to write' over and over until it triggers a starting point.

    And it will. :)

    I sometimes struggle with getting that first line down...because I'm a perfectionist. Another blog post for another day! ;)


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