Ellen wrote this week’s favorite comment:
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.
I don’t think her system is all that different.
In addition to being a binder nut, I may also be the teensiest bit obsessive. I think just about everything in life has a logical order or a system or a way of doing things that makes the most sense. For example, I clean the mirrors, then the wood surfaces, then the floors when I do chores thinking that I’m pushing the dust from the top down. I load the dishwasher in “categories” so it is easy to empty when the dishes are clean. I wash Mister’s laundry, then the delicates, then the darks, then the whites in the washer so the bleach residue from the whites doesn’t get on anything else (nevermind that something will inevitably come after the whites).
Most of the time, the system for getting off to a good start with my writing happens in the following order:
1. inspiration strikes!
2. make notes or a web to further flesh out the idea
3. write the plot line
4. if necessary, complete character sketches or the twelve points
Unfortunately, my system doesn’t always apply to my writing. Sometimes a scene from the middle or even (gasp!) the end comes to me first. Of course I have no choice but to write it down and try to fill in the stuff around it. When that happens, I call in the reinforcements:
Gail Carson Levine’s advice on beginnings:
“The first is to trim down to the essentials. Be ruthless with every word, phrase, and sentence.
The second suggestion is to delay the back story. Involve the reader in the front story first. Depending on what you’re writing you may need to introduce the back story quickly, maybe in the first page even, but not in the first couple of paragraphs.
The third suggestion is to give the reader a tidbit to worry about. Maybe worry is too strong. Engage may be a better word.”
And here is a list of the top 100 beginnings for some inspiration.