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  • Kara Newcastle

Writing Wednesday: Starting in the Middle (or End, or Wherever)

Writing Wednesday: Starting in the Middle (or End, or Wherever)

Schreibunterricht, by Albert Anker 1865

They (rough drafts) don’t necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start with the part of the story that’s most vivid in my imagination and work forward and backward from there.

—Beverly Cleary

I think most people who write get too hung up in the “process” of writing a story/book/essay/whatever, thinking that when you sit down to write something, they always have to start at, for example, “Once upon a time” and end at “Happily ever after.” They feel that when writing the story, it can only be begun at the beginning, at the opening moment. And that’s tough, because the beginning, the very first page, the opening line can be paralyzing for writers—myself included. They may have a general idea of how the rest of the story goes, but no clue as to how to actually begin it and may become so freaked out that they don’t start writing at all.

When I first started writing Nike, I didn’t have this problem … largely because as a thirteen-year-old new writer I was essentially just re-writing what I had just read or seen on TV and thought was cool. Later on, when I began writing more original stories, I often found that I had a hard time just starting a new story because I couldn’t figure out what would happen on the first page or first chapter. I could picture almost everything else exactly as I wanted it to happen later on but finding a way to set the story up in the beginning was sometimes so difficult that it took me weeks to write anything—if I bothered at all. At that time, I was convinced that the only way to properly write a story (or anything) was to start with the beginning, move on to the middle, and then finish up at the end.

And then one day I got so frustrated with being unable to come up with a perfect beginning that I just skipped over it and started writing the earliest scene I had already mapped out. After a while I went back, reread what I had, and was finally able to create a good opening scene. Eureka! I found the secret! You didn’t actually have to start at the beginning after all!

But … that didn’t make me a real writer, did it? I mean, there’s a sacred process to writing, right?

Those thoughts bugged me for a little while, until I was about fifteen years old and figured that A) who the hell cared and B) at least I was writing something, dammit. My realizations were later justified when I began reading many how-to-write books and found that pretty much every single one of them—and all of these are written by professional big-name authors and literary agents, mind you—said exactly the same thing: if you’re stuck at the beginning, work on the middle, or even the ending. Work on whatever scene you have an idea for, and then go back and add in the missing parts when you’re ready to. (Sometimes what I do is open a new document for each scene—I could write a scene that happens early in Chapter 1, then open a new document and write a scene for the middle of Chapter 16. It helps cut down on the stress for me!)

Such simple advice, but it works! Yes, your manuscript is going to look like a jumbled mess with lots of empty spaces, but it’s a rough draft and not meant to look perfect the first time around. Don’t beat yourself up for not “writing in the correct sequence,” even authors like Beverly Cleary didn’t do it that way. It’s better to write something than to stare at a blank document, not doing anything at all.

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