Write Your Opening Line . . . Then Burn It
Updated: Jul 13
Everyone does it. You sit at the computer, staring at a blinking cursor, sweating bullets. You type a few words loaded with clichés and blathering nonsense, then backspace over them in a flurry of embarrassment. Wow, you think, I am a terrible writer. But you're not (probably). You're just getting started, and getting started is hard.
It's a pity that people think they need to start writing at the beginning. Often, you already have the ideas and the passion for the heart of your essay/speech/post/proposal worked out pretty well. That's why you sat down to write in the first place. But you feel like you need to give your reader some context. You know that you need a hook to engage the audience, a joke, a conceptual frame . . . something!
Unfortunately, we often find ourselves reaching for tired phrases and images, generalizations, or corny sentiments. For some reason, these are the things that are stuck in our heads, and they need to come out. It's like starting up the hose for the first time in spring. There's a gush of warmish, stale water that needs to be flushed out before the fresh water starts flowing.
So flush it out! Write that dumb opening line! Let it sit there on the page in all its boring glory. Then keep going so you can get to the part you really care about. Often, I find that the real opening line is hidden somewhere two or three sentences into the first paragraph. The work (and the joy) of editing and revising comes in sorting out the trash from the treasure. So try lopping off the top--there might be gold in there after all.
The fact is, your reading audience will eventually need some context, and a conceptual frame can help create cohesion in your writing, but it's much easier to find the right frame for your painting once the painting is finished, so don't get impatient. Yes, it's a terrible opening line. Congratulations--you've birthed a real stinker! You can burn it later. But for now, you need something to define the edges. You just need to get you started. And you have.