Slight mix-up this week with the blogging days, and so I didn’t get to post earlier in the week. Hence, a Friday post…
People often ask me what I believe to be the hardest part of writing. The glib, noncommittal response I usually give is that there are as many answers to this as there are writers. Some of us struggle with worldbuilding, but are great with character. Some of us hate to write a first draft, but excel at editing and revising, while others are just the opposite. Some of us have great ideas but have trouble applying butt to chair and getting them written. Writing is hard in so many ways that picking just one would probably give the wrong impression.
But for me, the most difficult part of any book, any story, sometimes even any chapter, is the beginning. The opening words of a book can set the tone for the entire work. The first chapter creates momentum for the narrative. The introduction of the main character goes a long way toward determining whether or not he or she will capture the imagination of the reader. There’s a lot riding on the beginning pages of a novel, and I find that I struggle to make them just right. In any given book, I’ll probably spend more time writing chapter one than I will writing the four chapters that follow.
There’s a second reason for this, as well. For me, writing is an exercise in inertia. Inertia, for those of you who don’t know, is not simply a lack of impetus, though that’s how it’s commonly used. Rather inertia describes a physical law whereby objects at rest remain at rest, and objects in motion remain in motion until some external force is applied to change this. For me as a writer, this means that it takes me a while to get started on a project, but once a book is underway it maintains its own momentum. My first chapter is all about applying that external force to impel an object at rest (my book) into motion. My job in writing the subsequent chapters is much easier, because my book is already in motion. Inertia, which was my enemy at the outset, becomes my ally.
I’m thinking about this right now, because I’m starting a new book. Actually, I’m on the verge of starting two books that I’m going to try to write simultaneously. (I’ve never done such a thing before, but that’s a topic for future posts.) The one I started yesterday is the second in a series of stand-alone contemporary fantasy/mysteries. I had actually written the first chapter nearly a year ago. But then, for several reasons, I had to set the book aside. Any momentum I’d built in writing that first chapter has long since dissipated, leaving me, once more, with a book at rest. Add to that the fact that the first chapter isn’t written from the point of view of my lead character, and I now find myself, for all intents and purposes, starting a book.
And, naturally, I’m finding it very difficult to get going. So, to my writer friends out there, any of the rest of you struggle with the beginning of a book or story? Do you have techniques or exercises that you use to get past these struggles?
Today’s music: Darol Anger and Mike Marshall (Chiaroscuro)