Just Start Over

Thursday, July 08, 2021

My July 4th did not have an auspicious beginning. 

I started watching the Braves game; what’s the 4th without baseball, right? Except suddenly, the Braves were down 7 to 3. Ugh. I turned off the TV and decided to take a walk on my favorite trail. I hadn’t even gone a half-mile before I saw a sign reading, “Trail Closed Ahead.” What?

Back home, I checked the game score on my phone. WHAT? The Braves came back and won 8 to 7? UGH. The only thing worse than your home team losing is when your home team makes a miraculous comeback and you MISS it. So fine, I’d call an out-of-town friend and maybe walk on my back deck; he’s always around. EXCEPT HE DIDN’T PICK UP.

If you’re walking back and forth on your deck and talking on the phone, that’s cool. But if you’re just walking back and forth? That’s crazy. So I stewed. This day was not going my way at all. But fortunately for me, I know a little trick. I just started over. 

I took a calming breath and turned on the TV to watch game highlights. Fortuitously, the game had just ended so the announcers were still showing the replay of that last unbelievable run. Yay! Within the half hour, my friend called, and we had a nice, long chat (and I had a nice, long walk on the deck). YAY! And then Libs and I ended our 4th happily with lots (and LOTS) of fireworks! 

So what has all this to do with writing? Glad you asked… 

Whether it’s a short story, a blog post, a novel, or even an in-depth article, the beginning is always the hardest, at least for me. I can easily get stuck in a stinky beginning and get so bogged down that I’m tempted to quit. Or to think that the whole in its entirety must be bad because it started badly. 

Haven’t you had days like my July 4th where, just because it started badly, you decide the day is going to stink? But the beginning does not dictate the whole; sometimes, you can take that calming breath and start over.

With a shorter piece of writing, that’s not too daunting. It’s not unusual for me to cut my first paragraph or two because I just started in the wrong place. But with a novel? Ugh. 

Unfortunately, we often start a novel in the wrong place and also unfortunately, we often don’t figure that out until we’ve finished the novel. And believe me, no one wants to hear, “This part here, on page 58, is where your novel actually begins.” UGH. 

Initially, you will resist starting over—it’s easier to wallow a bit. You will be tempted to think the whole novel stinks and you should just quit and heck, give up this writing foolishness and buckle down in your real job. And yes, you’ll want to pull out your hair because you’ll have to practically rewrite the whole thing. 

But then, take that calming, cleansing breath...and begin again. In starting over, you just might find the best beginning ever. The rest of your story may flow much better and ultimately, your novel could end up the sparkly diamond that was there all along. And that’s worth celebrating, maybe with fancy sparklers! YAY!

~Cathy C. Hall (who re-wrote the beginning of this blog post three times)

Photo by Laziii Codar from Pexels


Sioux Roslawski said...

Cathy--When Margo Dill (Editor 911) edited my manuscript for my book (Greenwood Gone: Henry's Story), she told me I needed to start my story later on in the plot, to be a more engaging story. She also told me I had to later flash back to that moment.

Ultimately (because the story had little tension, despite being about a massacre--Yikes!), I started over. Was the first draft finished? Yes. Was I happy with the first draft? Definitely not. After starting over, was I happy with the manuscript? Yes.

I'm glad you got to see some of the highlights (said Sioux, who couldn't care less about sports). I'm glad you got to talk to your out-of-town friend. I've got a friend in Texas, and we've been playing phone tag this past week. And I'm glad you and Libby had some quality time together.

Great post, Cathy. If we're invested in a piece... if we want to get it published or we want it to be polished, we sometimes need to start over.

Cathy C. Hall said...

Sioux, I remembered that you had started over with your novel and I'm very glad you did! Most of my published friends, in fact, have rewritten their beginning chapters (and the revisions that followed). Including me! :-)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Ugh - phone tag. My cousin and I missed each other for four days before we made contact! But I'm glad we did because she wants to write. Yay!

I may be the only one but I don't mind when someone says "No, your story starts on page 54." Because then I know where it should start. I hate it when I can't get the beginning right and have no clue why or where to start. The struggle is real!

Cathy C. Hall said...

Well, you may not be the only one, Sue, but you're probably in an exclusive club. :-)

Though isn't it funny how we can see where OTHER people's manuscripts should start but can never quite figure out our own??? I, too, am very thankful for feedback that gets me at the right starting point!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Oh my gosh, Cath, this is so funny! I've had days like that where everything felt like, Wait, what?? Lol! :) Your deck sounds amazing and big if you can walk and get enough exercise. When they closed nature during Covid, I'd walk laps around my pool.

Middles are the hardest for me. The beginning usually comes to me in a vision and is strong, but then I lose steam. One of my favorite essays is The Autobiography of My Novel by Alexander Chee. It was in Best American Essays, and it's about grappling with auto-fiction vs novel, and a lot of starts and stops in his book publishing journey. He sent his book to his agent who told him it really started on page 90.

I think it happens a lot! I see a lot of "throat clearing" in our essay contest where if the writer had just cut the first paragraph it would've been a clear winner. The good thing is it's easy to cut! It's painful, yeah, but part of the process. :)

Btw, I love the beginning of this post! Third time's a charm. :)

Cathy C. Hall said...

Ha, thanks, Ang, third time is often the charm for me! :-)

As for my deck, it's not all that big. It just has a walkway from there to the front of the house. Which is highly visible to my neighbor and why I don't look crazy, walking back and forth.

Well, not AS crazy. :-)

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