Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Start at the beginning, go the end, then stop

Just start at the very beginning; it's a very good place to start.  That's the advice the editor gave us at the writing conference.  The only problem is, how to find the beginning.  I have friends who obsess over beginnings, rewriting their beginnings a thousand times.  Understandable, at least to another writer.  Except that they won't write the rest of the story until they've perfected the beginning.  And, also to a writer, it becomes more and more obvious that the closer you get to the end of the story, the closer you get to the beginning:  that you can only know what the beginning must be when you know the end.

I'm doing my daily writing practice on the last morning of the conference, working with one eye on the clock on my cell phone, in a hotel bar the morning after what must have been an all-night party.  There's still unwiped up stickiness and spilled salt on the table.  I'm using the cell phone clock because there are three other people in the bar, talking quietly or surfing the internet, and the buzzer on the kitchen timer I habitually use for this exercise would startle them.

I'm searching for beginnings.  The workshop leader's verdict over our submissions was "death to prologues."  Prologues are ways to avoid finding the beginning.  So are flashbacks.  So are -- well, a lot of things.  Some participants argued with her.  I commiserated with the man now talking in the corner to a young woman, both fellow writers.  He said he wasn't bitter about finding another starting point.  If there's a problem with a message, he said, don't blame the receiver.  Blame the sender.  And because he carried communications equipment on maneuvers in Alaska, maybe I'll believe him.  Or maybe I'll believe that I've got to find my own beginning because I can't force other people to understand where my story needs to start.  The only person I can force to do anything, even if it's only writing better, is me.

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