Important Firsts

28 Mar

Backspace. Backspace.
“When I”
“Sometimes I have trouble with beginnings.”
Highlight. Delete.

This is how I started this post. True story. Beginnings come with a lot of pressure.

Think about your important firsts:
The first day of school.
A first date.
Meeting the (future) in-laws.
Starting a new job.
Trying a new activity.
Moving to a new city.
Joining a new group.
Commenting on this blog for the first time 🙂

Except for that last one, just writing the list makes me a little nervous.

How do you get off to a good start (especially with your writing)?


Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Beginnings


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2 responses to “Important Firsts

  1. Mary

    March 28, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    I used to teach interns how to draft judicial opinions (the judge’s orders and the reasoning behind it. Scary b/c ideally the judge signs this work and it becomes the state of the law.) Some interns would listen to my directions, which I will lay out in a second, research the applicable law thoroughly and review the various sections or components of an opinion. Then they would bring up a blank screen and try to write the thing. EVERY ONE of them got stuck. EVERY ONE of them would spend WAY too long staring at the blinking cursor.

    Here were my instructions:
    1) Relax. No one’s life hangs in the balance of this case’s outcome. No one is going to die as a result of your efforts. Promise.
    2) Find an old judicial opinion on the same topic as yours and written by the same judge from the computer database.
    3) Open this old judicial opinion.
    4) Change the caption (Plaintiff v Defendant), dates, heading etc.
    5) Play Mad-Libs with the first few sections. Take out the facts specific to the old case and stick in your facts. Like this “Officer ______________[insert officer’s name] knocked on _______[insert Defendant’s name] at ____ [insert time of day/hour/minute] and said _______[insert statement from police report.
    By the time you are done playing mad libs, you’re on page 4 and might have built up enough steam and confidence to write the meatier sections.
    6) Be patient with yourself. And be persistent in your effort to get it right. You will have to edit this thing. Again and again. The first time I drafted an opinion, I went through 13 rounds of edits. I had to be ready to do a 14th round if required.

    Maybe you’ll magically get it right the first or second time. And I will give you another opinion to draft. DO NOT sit in front of the computer watching the cursor blink. Review the instructions, instead.

    Now, for better or worse, your writing can’t be subject to the madlibs treatment. But rules 1 and 6 are relevant to every one!

    I also find that most of the “new things” on your list are far more comfortable if done with an “old” person. Take up Ultimate Frisbee (again)? Make sure your brother picks you to be on his team. Meet the future in-laws? Well, certainly your husband-to-be will be there for/with you! Travel to India, Japan, Switzerland, France? Take your spouse with you. (Although that NEVER works out as planned.)

  2. Ellen

    March 30, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    My writing fits into the category of graduate school and fellowship personal statements and cover letters so my system is a bit different.
    1. First I list the requirements of the essay and key phrases from their ad or website or promotional materials.
    2. Then I brainstorm some of my own accomplishments or thoughts that relate to those key phrases or requirements.
    3. Usually a theme emerges which I use to draft the first paragraph.


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