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.