It might seem ludicrous, but ‘at the beginning’ is not always the easiest place to commence a piece of writing. Whether creative or non-fiction, writers everywhere wrestle on a daily basis with the dilemma of where exactly they should start. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can give you some tips on what works for me.
One of the most important things to think about is this: the beginning of a piece of writing isn’t necessarily the start. For novels, there’s copious amounts of both plot and character related back story which, whilst necessary to the author, are not immediately important in terms of the actual scope of the novel. When writing short pieces, finding that fickle balance between engaging your reader and using up your word limit can be incredibly difficult. I prefer the larger scope of a novel when I write creatively. There’s a certain appeal about the vast possibilities of the story and the ability to be long winded at my personal whim. If I were to write a short piece, chances are it’s an excerpt from a novel idea that’s simmering away inside my brain, or a series of short pieces which make up a whole.
In all of these cases, I prefer to start my writing with some action. I sit down and examine the backstory, looking for the event which precipitates the plot line. This is where I start. Isolating this event can take a long time and a lot of hot showers (I think best in the shower with my eyes shut) but is always worth the effort. I love to draw a reader in immediately and there is no better way to do that than to dump them into the middle of an action scene. For example, in the short story I posted previously, I chose to begin with the character painting her pharoah’s funerary mural inside of the pyramid. This was certainly not the start of her life story, nor was it the start of the events which led up to her being in the pyramid. It was, however, the action scene which began the specific time of her life which I wished to encompass in the scope of my writing. Starting at this point allowed me to place the reader directly within the atmosphere without wasting words on backstory which I was able to reveal as the piece progressed.
On the occasions I am writing non-fiction (which is most of my writing time since I started freelancing for a living) then I still face this same dilemma. I set my work out very similarly to if it was creative, but instead of exploring the backstory, I spend time researching the topic and taking copious notes. Once I have my research, I then sit down and sort everyting into an order that’s appropriate for the content I’m writing. From there, we come back to the same moment – choosing the point at which I can convey maximum information in an engaging manner without wasting wordage on irrelevant data. It’s the same process as the creative one, with a few tweaks to allow for the slightly different method of writing I use in the non-fiction field. Applying a creative process to a non-fiction piece actually makes my writing better. By allowing my imagination to get involved, I think beyond the boundaries of the topic and this results in a better finished piece. Having the right sort of beginning and then following it up with punchy writing and relevant information makes all the difference for client, reader and author alike.
So that’s it, in a nutshell. For me, the beginning is never the start. I love the immediacy of being plunged headfirst into a piece of writing, regardless of genre or content. It’s that feeling I aim to convey when I provide something to someone else to read. What about you? Where do you begin and how do you choose that point at which to start your writing?