Writing when you're ready

August 12, 2009

During memoirchat on Twitter last week, I told another writer of memoir how much trouble I’m having writing Chapter One. I’ve struggled with it for weeks, writing and re-writing, never feeling satisfied.

Other chapters of the book have come easier than this, I explained. I’ve already written much of the middle of the story.

She suggested maybe I wasn’t ready to write Chapter One. Perhaps, she said, I should go back to writing the parts of the book that are working, continue making progress, and return later to the first chapter.

And I thought: Why didn’t I think of that? Of course I’m not ready to write the first chapter! Why was I forcing myself to do it?

(You can read the entire transcript of our conversation here.)

It reminded me of one day last year in the newsroom at the Houston Chronicle, when I was struggling to write the lead for a story and complaining about it to a fellow reporter. “Have you done enough reporting?” he asked. “Sometimes when I can’t write the lead, it’s because I haven’t talked to enough people or spent enough time researching the topic.”

Luckily I wasn’t on deadline, so I took another day to report. And he was right — only then did it become clear how I should introduce the story to my readers.

I’m hoping the same thing will happen with my book. As I write more chapters, continue to develop the story arc, characters and theme, perhaps the beginning will take shape in my head.

Writing this book — my first book — is a learning process. I try something, it doesn’t work, so I try something else. And Chapter One was not working. At least not right now. So I’m going to put it aside, let the words flow elsewhere, and come back to this intro later, when I’m ready.

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    10 Replies to “Writing when you're ready”

    • Jen says:

      I love how you are giving feedback about your process of writing a novel! It is really interesting to see how it is progressing, and I particularly love to see how Twitter is a new tool for aspiring authors!

      Good luck with the rest of your book 🙂


    • I usually just sketch out chapter 1 and come back to it later. After all, it’s too important not to get right. It seems to come easier to me later on in the process.

      Mystery Writing is Murder

    • Karen Walker says:

      HI Alexis,
      Chapter One of my memoir changed several times during the course of revision. I talk about the process over at womensmemoirs.com. That was good advice you received–let it be. It will come to you. Trust your process.

    • jessiecarty says:

      great advise! thanks for sharing it with everyone 🙂
      i am paraphrasing a quote i read once that said – the end shapes the beginning.

    • I’m having difficulty writing a jail break and used the opportunity to post a blog last week asking visitors their input. I got some good deas and just started writing.

      I actually have a number of things going on at the same time. I bullet pointed about 50 things that could happen during planning and executing the jailbreak. Some are contradictory to other events, but I’m filling out the pages anyway and will eventually eliminate some things and keep others until I have the draft of the chapters complete.

      Steve Tremp

    • Sometimes it takes input from others to make us see the obvious! I’m sure Chapter 1 will begin flowing for you when the time it right.

    • Marie says:

      I write all around my story before I can get back to the beginning- sometimes that’s just how it works 🙂

    • It’s funny, that’s exactly where I am now. I’m pretty much done with a rough first draft of the book…except for Chapter 1. I just can’t seem to figure out how to start it. Glad to know someone else can relate!

      Also, sorry I always miss memoirchat! I love the idea, there’s just so much chaos around here. 🙂

      Thanks for another great post!

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