Too Many Ways to Start


Too Many Ways to Start

The beginning of the story is its most crucial part. We all know that you can only make one first impression; so it's especially important to immediately hook your reader. Maybe that's why we struggle with and agonize over beginnings so much; and maybe that's why beginnings have a way of multiplying.

Have you ever had this happen to you? You start a story with a killer opening image, action, or scene. But before you can continue the story, you think of another opening image that would work just as well. You write that beginning too, planning to choose which one will work best later. Then you think of another opening image that's just perfect. Pretty soon, you've got five different beginnings to your story. You may think that you can somehow incorporate these great images later in the story; but of course, some images only work as the beginning of the story, and can't be shuffled around. You're embarking on the garden of forking paths, but the paths are forking far too early.

Indecisiveness comes from insecurity.

In this case, the indecisiveness that comes from multiple beginnings often stems from insecurity. You know that your writing just isn't good enough; you're convinced that each image you create is somehow falling short. The way to avoid that hard realization is just to keep beginning again. It's a form of procrastination.

Once you realize this, however, you can put a stop to it. An important stage of the writing process is to be able to write really crappy first drafts. We know our first drafts are going to be full of problems. But it's better to have a completed draft that you can work with than a folder full of half finished openings. At some point, when you see multiple openings beginning to paralyze you, it's time to drive forward through your draft. Make yourself write without looking back for a while. Finish a scene or a chapter. Then you can look back.

Indecisiveness comes from fear of missing out.

The only reason you might be writing multiple first chapters is the fear of missing out. All of us are opportunists; we know we can't do everything, but we want to be able to do so many things. Compulsive hoarders are known to have this problem; they hold onto objects because they have so many different projects in mind that they'd like to do. But holding on to too many objects and projects will keep you from starting any of them. At some point, in writing as well as in life, you have to shed some opportunities and focus on others. Look back at your multiple chapters and make a hard choice about which one will really prove most fruitful. Then let the others go.