Unstuck: Writing the Beginning Over and Over

From Woman Writers, Women’s Books

Every writer gets stuck at one time or another. Being stuck can trigger feelings of anxiety and self-doubt (to name just a few!) but it doesn’t have to spell the end of your project, or you as a writer. Ray Bradbury famously said: “Writer’s block is just a warning that you’re doing the wrong thing.”

In other words, we can think of being stuck as an alarm rather than a brick wall; something isn’t working but chances are you can fix it.

. . . .

Stuck Writing the Beginning Over and Over

Sometimes we must scrap everything and start over. But way more often we only want to scrap everything and start over. 

Maybe we’ve gotten feedback that makes us re-consider our original story idea. Maybe we have a different idea of a character’s motivation. All of these thoughts and concerns are good! Keep a notebook and write them down. 

But it’s also important to keep moving forward.

You could spend six weeks revising chapter one only to decide a month later that the story really begins at chapter three.

I’ve done that.

The Great is the Enemy of the Good (sometimes)

When I asked author and creative writing instructor Sarah Stone about this thorny issue, she reminded me that:

Early drafts are a place for play and discovery, so rather than going back to tidy it up when we get a new idea, it’s great to write a lumpy, mixed-up version that switches modes and voices and jumps from place to place, one that starts too early in the story or too late.

In other words, keep in mind that your beginning doesn’t have to be—and maybe shouldn’t be—perfect.

As writers, we’re learning useful things (details, character traits, overall themes) as we write our first chapters; for some of us, writing is the only way we can learn them. Others may have traits and themes, etc., plotted out beforehand, but the actual writing always brings some surprises. Characters come across differently on the page than they do in our heads.

So go ahead, be messy.

If you find yourself going back again and again to the beginning without moving on, take a moment to reflect on why you’re returning. It may be that the voice or the story direction isn’t quite right; that is, it isn’t helping you move the story forward. 

Sarah Stone advises us to pay attention to those warning signals: “If our internal mechanism absolutely requires of us that we get the voice right before we go on, then we should let ourselves follow our instincts and be kind to ourselves.”

But if you keep going back to the beginning because you are worried/scared/uncertain about what comes next, you may be returning for comfort or avoidance, not guidance. 

Link to the rest at Woman Writers, Women’s Books

1 thought on “Unstuck: Writing the Beginning Over and Over”

  1. A similar situation can happen when coding software. If a tiny voice is saying, “Take some time away,” that’s writer’s block. Stop coding. Come back the next day and see why your current path is unwise. Unwind the code a bit and continue in a different direction. When coding software, writer’s block is your friend.

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