Several years ago, I heard literary agent, Cherry Weiner, give a talk at a writing group. Among the many things she shared with us that day were these wisdomous words:
‘When you’ve finished your story,
go back and rewrite the beginning.’
Up until then, I’d always written in a linear fashion. I’d start with (what I hoped was) a killer opening, then work my way through the middle to the (again hoped for) thrilling and/or satisfying conclusion at the end, after which I’d get down to the editing. The idea of wantonly discarding the first few pages of a story, or worse, the first chapter or two of a novel, seemed counter-productive. Why write a beginning at all if you’re just going to throw it out later?
But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Despite our best intentions, stories quite often head off in a different direction from the one we originally intended. Even if, like me, you use outlines, planned ideas and sub-plots get changed, added and/or abandoned as we get to know the characters and plot better during the first draft process. Besides, who hasn’t had a critique containing a big red line several pages in, along with the words ‘I think your story starts here’? Personally, I’ve found rewriting the opening almost always leads to a better fit with the rest of the story.
There’s another positive effect from knowing you’ll rewrite the beginning from the outset, at least for writers like me. I understand the benefits to be had from getting the first draft over with as fast as possible. I want to work that way, but I fight a constant battle with my inner editor during the first draft process. When you know from the outset that whatever beginning you write will (almost definitely) get thrown out anyway, it’s easier to resist the temptation to go back and polish up what you’ve already got.
How about you?
Where do you end your first drafts?
Born in England, Jon Gibbs now lives in New Jersey, where he’s ‘Author in Residence’ at Lakehurst Elementary School. A member of several writing groups, including SCBWI, he’s the founder of NJAuthorsNetwork.com and FindAWritingGroup.com. His blog, An Englishman in New Jersey (http://jongibbs.livejournal.com), is read in over thirty countries.
Jon’s debut novel, Fur-Face (Echelon Press) a middle grade fantasy about unusual friendships, unlikely alliances, and wanting to fit in, was nominated for a Crystal Kite Award. Watch out for the sequel, Barnum’s Revenge, coming in 2012.
When he’s not chasing around after his children, Jon can usually be found hunched over the computer in his basement office. One day he hopes to figure out how to switch it on.