An Exercise in Inertia


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)


11 comments to An Exercise in Inertia

  • Beginnings are stunningly easy for me. They come to me like a bolt out of the blue, language, tone, theme, everything. A thousand words cascade out of me in almost perfect 10/100/1000 word increments: within 10 words, write 1 word that tells the user to sit up and pay attention; within 100 words establish POV, attitude, vocabulary, and setting; within 1000 words establish protagonist, introduce an adversarial conflict, demonstrate ability to both write action and make the reader smile.

    “There’s an angel on my roof. I have no idea what to say to her.”

    “I was 12 when the Dragons came for my father.”

    I just have absolutely no idea how to write an ending.

  • Okay I will the third type of authors here, okay writers. I am still not published the way I want, so no title. I can’t do middles. I ahve cool check point a and an even cooler checkpoint B and then I end up with no way to connect them.

    I also seem to be doing bad on the dialog front too. As much as it sounds cool in my head all cliche stuff come on the screen. Just blah!

    One way to co,bat your problem is to not write from the beginning. Just write all important scenes in the novel and then work on tying them together and then the beginning will come. I hear it works somewhat.

  • Suzane

    Having two musi who insist on never giving you the whole story upfront, and most certainly never in order, I agree it’s important to write down what you have when you’re given it. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to recall it later.

    Then, once things finally tend to calm down, I just take the whole mess and play puzzle pieces with it in my writing software. That’s when the fun starts. As I’m happily making sense of what they’ve given me, they’re in the background whispering to each other, periodically throwing me details to insert here and there, until they suddenly realize they’ve just come up with something new. *facepalms*

    Evil, schizophrenic musi.

  • I’ve tried Harry’s suggestion of writing different scenes and tying them together later, but I’m much too linear of a writer. I like having an outline, even though the outline I begin with is so different from the story I end with, it’s almost funny. I usually just sit here with the outline at hand, and force my hands to type until something starts looking good.

    It sounds so unromantic, doesn’t it? *grin*

  • Michele Conti

    Ooh, yeah… tying things together doesn’t work for me either, whether its fiction or a term paper, I end up with random paragraphs that make no sense together, and no way to combine them to one unit.

    Beginnings… I don’t like trying to find them in my head, for anything, unfortunately they’re required!

  • MelanieGriffin

    This (like so much else here) is a great topic. My experience is an amalgam of all of yours’.

    I had the middle – which ended up being the second half – appear to me, the very first line, and general shape of the first chapter. Tricky muse! The biggest hurdle was trying to find out how they connected. Then there was that chapter I mentioned where I just wrote and found it did belong to the work in an important way.

    The outline sort of surfaced like beach erosion brings up the skeletons of ships. Ooh, but it’s a cool wreck I found! Keeps getting richer with things in chests from the past I dig out, some of which will pay for its refurbishment and seaworthiness again (plans for book 2 & 3.) Woo-hoo!

    Right now I am fussing with editing & refining the novel. *sigh* I love tweaking it, but keep getting stuck in the deceptive, sucking puddles of anti-editing inertia around certain sections. Any help for that last bit?

  • I am way too linear to do that myself, but then again I have no problems with beginnings.

    Writing is complicated. After I read Holly Lisle’s Mugging the Muse I read about a timed writing exerxise that is supposed to unclog the mind.

    You set the question that is bothering you about the beginning and then for 20 minutes you just write whetever comes on the subject, rambling and so on. Then you read what you ahve written and see if anything is useful.

  • I’m way too linear, as well. Can’t write scenes out of order. But this is also more than a matter of how my mind works. When I write I choose my words very carefully. I foreshadow. I build character slowly, giving out hints and deepening as I go along. To use an old analogy, for me writing a book is like building a house. I could no more write a late scene early in the writing process than I could put in the drywall before the foundation was complete. Just doesn’t work for me. I know it works for others, and I think that’s great, but I couldn’t do it.

    On the other hand, Harry, I love that last suggestion. I do a lot of stream of consciousness brainstorming at various points in the process. But using it to work out the beginning had never occurred to me. (Go figure.) Thanks!

  • Apparently you and I channel the same angst when it comes to writing. Half the time I discover that what I thought was the beginning was waaaaaaaaay off. Like I started way later in the story and have to go back a little bit (sometimes building in up to five or six chapters of pre-stuff). But I’m like you. That beginning does so much. I want it to at least feel right–which means set the proper tone to keep me rolling. I don’t mind going back and filling in the pre-part that I didn’t figure out until later, but that beginning is about getting my head right to build the whole novel. I just finished reworking a proposal (at the behest of an editor) and I thought it would be just tweaking around those first chapters. But no. I had started too late and I went in and wrote three new chapters for the beginning. It’s a lot better. I think anyhow. We’ll see what Lucienne and the editor think. And now, I have last minute revisions on The Black Ship I’m avoiding. I should go work on those . . .


  • Michele Conti

    David, you certainly do foreshadow. 🙂 Although, I have to say, I never saw the ending of Eagle-Sage quite the way it played out. I remember someone saying they wanted more from the ending, or something, but I don’t think it could have ended better. I got all giddy in the Epilogue. Have to say, I got a little sad when all the ghosts were gone. Though, I knew it would happen earlier on…there’s that foreshadowing 😛 Anyway, I loved it. But now I’m out of books…poop.

  • Thanks for the kind words, Michele. I did get beaten up a bit on Amazon for the ending of Eagle-Sage, but I was pretty pleased with the way it came out.

    And many thanks to Diana Pharoah Francis for stopping by to comment. for those of you who odn’t know the name, Diana is a terrific fantasy writer and a very cool person. She and I are agent-siblings (both represented by the same agent).