You are currently viewing How to Start

How to Start

I have to write this essay and I’ve dithered too long. How do I start?

I could start with a humorous anecdote, maybe something self-deprecating —I’ve been doing a fair amount of that sort of self-flagellation lately. Maybe about the time I fell asleep in the library in college and was so embarrassed when I was awoken by another student that….

Or how about a shocking  fact —  someone just told me that in a recent poll 80% of Americans said they want to write a book (I wonder what percentage want to read one?). Or maybe a bold assertion, like “I shot a man in Reno, just so he would stay still while I drew him…”

It doesn’t really matter what I write in the first draft of the first paragraph of this piece. In just a few minutes, it’ll be revised, moved, or deleted. And yet those first words are the most important and difficult ones I will write today.  Not because they need to be brilliant or breakthrough or pithy or genius.

But because I have to write them.

I need to get something, anything, down on paper or up on the screen so the gears will slowly, finally start to turn.  Overcoming inertia is the hardest part of the creative process. But momentum is pretty easy to gain once that first line is down.

The worst thing I can do is to stop and think about what I’m doing right now ….  Whoops, I just did.  I stopped to write a transitional sentence and nothing worked, even though I rewrote it six times. Another part of my brain was engaging. The critical, persnickety part that is there to evaluate and rewrite and haul out the ol’ Roget.

But it’s too early for that set of tools. I’ll come back and prune and polish later, get rid of all the egregious typos (how do you spell egregious?), see if any of this palaver makes sense and is worth sharing.

But not yet.  For now I just need to slam and peck and throw up characters in a line.

Polishing has its place. But polishing only matters when there’s a nice pile of raw material to grind down. And I’ll only have that — if I start.

Leave a Reply