Wading in the Shallows

One of the most common suggestions received during conference critiques is to change the point where our stories start. Often we’re told to drop the first few paragraphs, pages, or even the first chapter and start from there. It seems odd that so many of us begin our tales too early and that even as we grow as writers we continue to do so.


But perhaps it’s a natural process that leads writers to begin before the beginning. We need to get our feet wet. When I go swimming, I don’t dive right into the pool. I wade in slowly, letting my body adjust to the water temperature. First my feet, then my legs, the water rises and after a last shiver I plunge in.


Writing the first draft of a story is a similar process. The original first paragraphs, pages, or chapters that we later discard let us get our bearings. We get acclimatized to new settings. We splash around in the shallows learning about our characters. Gradually we adjust to the water temperature and swim out to the depths.


We shouldn’t let finding the perfect beginning leave us frozen at the water’s edge afraid to swim. We shouldn’t force ourselves to plunge into the cold, deep waters before we’re ready or we might drown in the middle. Wading out and splashing in the shallows until we find the current of the story is natural and necessary.


By accepting this part of the creative process, we allow ourselves the freedom to begin. We lose the anxiety about starting at the right place. Even after the original pages are ruthlessly cut during revision, we have learned from the opening splashes. Their ripples spread out through the story. The confidence and knowledge we gained from them remains in the strong smooth strokes of our finished works.





About roxanne werner

Mild mannered mom by day, free time lost in my imagination. My journey started with Santa. Every year I raced to the Christmas tree and searched until I found the special present, the heavy one, signed 'love Santa'--a book. I would curl up and start reading, often not coming up for air until the story was done. As an adult I still look for the one special present under my tree, signed from Santa. It's the heavy one I open first--a new book, a new world to explore. I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey but reading let me travel through space and time. I visited the future with H.G. Wells, Middle Earth with J.R.R.Tolkien. I had the best of companions, characters who made me laugh, cry, and catch my breath. My sixth grade teacher opened up another world for me. Each week we were assigned to write a story. I had made up stories in my head before, but never attempted to write them down. It was the best homework I ever had. I couldn't wait to put down my ideas and create characters of my own. I was hooked on writing. Time passed and though I remained an avid reader, writing was put aside. I had a family to raise and a full time job. Now that my son is going to be sixteen, I'm getting ready to retire my 'mom hat.' Two years ago I decided to pursue writing as more than a hobby. I packed up my imagination, a pen, my PC, mustered up my courage, and began a new journey. It's been filled with ups and downs, but I won't ever go back. Like Frodo, I've learned there's a big wide world out there. Once you take one step out of your door, you are swept up and taken for an adventure. It's scary and wonderful. I've made great friends and learned so much. If I'm brave and don't give up, one day a child will pick up a heavy present under their tree and open it to find one of my stories.
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One Response to Wading in the Shallows

  1. Suzanne says:

    Loved this post. A wonderful metaphor.

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