Every writer has been there: You sit down at your computer or your typewriter, or you pick up your pen, with an exciting new idea just itching to be written down — only for you to get stuck at the starting line. It’s like that moment in racing games where, if you’re too overeager and hit the gas before the countdown ends, you get a penalty and your car misfires or whatever, and you have a hard time catching up to everyone else after that. Sort of.
Okay, that’s not the perfect analogy, but you know what I mean.
It sucks. And it happened to me with the second draft of The World As It Should Be (that’s my current WIP, for those of you who don’t know, and it was previously titled The Granddaughters). This round of edits required me to write in a whole second protagonist alongside my original one, and I didn’t know where to start her story. But I knew where she would be at the middle and the end of the book.
So for the first time in my life I started writing a story from a point other than its beginning.
I can hear you gasping. (Okay, maybe not, maybe you’ve tried this tactic as well. But maybe you think it’s sacrilege. You have to start at the beginning and write all the scenes in order until the end! You can’t just write out of order like that!)
(Oh, but you can.)
(And here’s why…)
Getting stuck at the beginning is The Worst, capital T, capital W. It’s a surefire way to knock you on your ass and kill a manuscript in its tracks. You’ll start to think to yourself, “This writing gig is too hard. I quit. I’m no good.” All the fun of writing will be sucked out of it, and all that enthusiasm you had when you sat down will evaporate. And then your brilliant idea of a book will never see the light of day.
If you get stuck at the beginning, you will never finish your manuscript, and if you never finish your manuscript, you will never be published. The point is to FINISH what you write! No matter how you go about putting it all together. Maybe starting at the beginning is no fun for you, especially if you have no idea where your story begins. So start with the fun stuff! If you don’t know where to start your story, don’t start with the beginning! Write a scene you’re really excited about, even if that scene is the climax or the resolution or even the very end. Writing the fun stuff will keep your creative energy flowing and maybe even make writing the beginning even easier for you down the line. Let those scenes fill in the blanks for you.
Here’s my experience writing out of order so far:
Maya is the name of my second protagonist. I wrote two opening scenes for her with only slight variations, and was utterly unhappy with both of them. And I got so frustrated because I wanted to move on from that point in her story and get to the meat of the action, but I was too busy trying to think of an instigator for her plot. That frustration led to me becoming creatively blocked; I was having a hard time thinking of different beginnings, and the two versions I wrote were too similar to one another. I couldn’t put my finger on what needed to change in order for the storyline to click, for it all to make sense.
Many writers write their stories out of order, while just as many others prefer to write the beginning, the middle, and then the end. Every writer is different. I used to be the kind that preferred to focus on getting from Point A to Point B to Point C.
But every manuscript is different too, even from draft to draft. What worked in Draft Zero for me (the rough draft) no longer worked for me in Draft 2.0. When I had only one protagonist — Ros — I knew exactly where I wanted her story to begin. Ros practically sprang to life in my imagination and I had no trouble with her, so I could confidently write that first scene.
On the other hand, Maya was entirely new to me, but I knew she had a story to tell; I just didn’t know where it started.
There were scenes I was really, really excited to write for Maya, scenes full of conflict and great, snappy dialogue. The only problem? Those scenes wouldn’t happen until the middle of the plot! So for once I decided to start with those scenes.
It worked wonders.
The reason it worked so well for me is because trying so hard to come up with a good beginning was draining my self-confidence and affecting my motivation. I knew I had good ideas for Maya down the road, but I was so focused on getting that opening scene just perfect that my creativity abruptly disappeared and I suddenly felt like a crappy writer. I hated my writing, and I was afraid I would grow to hate this story that I worked so carefully to create for a year now. Honestly, I was afraid I would start to hate writing itself. I was getting no enjoyment out of it because I would sit there and try so hard to brainstorm a good beginning that I would get a headache and end up writing nothing at all. Writing was slowly becoming a chore for me.
Finally, I decided, “Fuck it.” I had whole scenes imagined already for Maya that I was just dying to write, so I would start with those.
And suddenly I was unstuck.
After writing just one scene from the middle of the story, I was able to come up with a beginning to Maya’s story that was just as fun to write as the later scenes — and which will hopefully be fun to read as well. The idea for your beginning might not come to you as quickly as mine did, but it’s bound to click eventually!
I’ll admit, it felt wrong at first to start in the middle — dirty, almost! But I dove into it anyway and as a result I have a beginning I’m very happy with. Sure, writing out of order will leave you with a mess of a draft to organize after, but the writing process itself will likely be more fun for you if you can write scenes that you care about.
Feel free to share your thoughts on all this below in the comments, and as always, happy writing!