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)
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