"Sometime when I sit down at the keyboard, I know what I want to say but the words refuse to flow..."
No, that's not what I wanted to say. The words flow alright but they come out all wrong. Besides, this opening sounds dull and clunky.
"So, I start in the middle, writing about the thing most clear in my mind..."
Drat! I wish that were true. Nothing about this essay is clear in my mind.
"In conclusion, sometimes it's best to start at the end..."
Now I've gone from bad to worse.
Good grief, this column knows its due on Monday but it’s being a jerk by refusing to be written.
I've tried everything. I went at it head-on. I hooked around to attack it from the side. I even tried sneaking up from behind. Nothing works. I just can't find my way into it.
We all have times like this when everything we do fails. Still we try. We even try giving up, only to find that doesn’t work either.
We might have a fully formed idea but it lingers just out of reach, like an answer that hangs tantalizingly on the tip of our tongue.
So I’ll put the question to you. How do you find your way into a stubborn piece of writing?
Speaking for myself, I haven't a clue. Every piece is different and I have no silver bullets, all I have is the boring old lead kind. I just listed four of them: starting at the beginning, starting in the middle, starting at the end, and walking away.
There are plenty of other things to try. Some of our more organized colleagues would never begin without an outline. That rarely works for me.
No matter where I start I like to begin by free-writing in a conversational tone – like I am describing to someone what I want to write. But when that doesn't work, I'll resort to an outline.
It's when none of the above works that I pull out my big guns. I go nuclear.
For me there is nothing more effective than a good old temper-tantrum. This is why I write in my man-hut deep in the woods. When things do not go well, I scream, I swear, I frighten and offend the local wildlife. Because of this, several deer and a vole will no longer speak to me.
But sometimes it works.
Here are a couple of extra tips I've tried for finding the way into a piece of writing.
Before you begin
- Keep in mind that what works best – is writing a lot. The more you write, the easier it gets. Well, the easier it gets to write the easy stuff.
Ideas for beginning at the beginning
- Warm up: write a journal entry, a joke or a funny thing your cat did. Don't try to accomplish anything, the purpose is to warm up your writing muscles, nothing else.
- Write the hook: a killer first paragraph requires a solid understanding of what you want to say. Writing the hook just might hook you into writing the rest.
- Free-write: go wherever the writing takes you until you know you are off-track then get back on track and start again.
Ideas for beginning in the middle.
- Ask yourself: Which ideas are clearest in your mind? What interests you? What inspires you? Better question, what will interest and inspire your reader? Start there.
- Begin with dialogue: let your characters speak for themselves. They just might tell you their story.
Ideas for beginning at the end.
- Write the twist if there is one: the hook in the first paragraph draws the reader in, the twist keeps them thinking about your piece long afterwards.
- Write the last paragraph as a destination: think of it as the place you want to go - and backtrack.
There is no magic in any of these tricks - but when you are stuck, if you try something different, your writing just might click and that is magical.
Disclaimer: I am an amateur writer and not qualified to advise anyone on anything. Take these ideas as just that, ideas. If they work for you then that is wonderful. If they do not work, keep trying until you find something that does.
This week’s writing challenge: How do you find your way into a stubborn piece of writing?
Post your article to Gather Writing Essentials.
BE SURE TO TAG your submission with MWE. Note: I search for articles using the tag "MWE" If you don't tag it right, I will not find it.
- Include "Monday Writing Essential" in your title.
Last week's challenge: to sketch something with words, must have struck a chord. Look at all the responses! I hope I didn't miss anyone (the Gather Search function is still not working).
Weekly reminder: don't forget to recommend an article that you like (to learn why, read Ann Marcaida's article Attract More Writers and Artists to Gather!).. Also try to place a comment on at least one article and say more than you liked the piece. Tell the author what worked and what needs work.