During memoirchat on Twitter last week, I told another writer of memoir how much trouble I’m having writing Chapter One. I’ve struggled with it for weeks, writing and re-writing, never feeling satisfied.
Other chapters of the book have come easier than this, I explained. I’ve already written much of the middle of the story.
She suggested maybe I wasn’t ready to write Chapter One. Perhaps, she said, I should go back to writing the parts of the book that are working, continue making progress, and return later to the first chapter.
And I thought: Why didn’t I think of that? Of course I’m not ready to write the first chapter! Why was I forcing myself to do it?
(You can read the entire transcript of our conversation here.)
It reminded me of one day last year in the newsroom at the Houston Chronicle, when I was struggling to write the lead for a story and complaining about it to a fellow reporter. “Have you done enough reporting?” he asked. “Sometimes when I can’t write the lead, it’s because I haven’t talked to enough people or spent enough time researching the topic.”
Luckily I wasn’t on deadline, so I took another day to report. And he was right — only then did it become clear how I should introduce the story to my readers.
I’m hoping the same thing will happen with my book. As I write more chapters, continue to develop the story arc, characters and theme, perhaps the beginning will take shape in my head.
Writing this book — my first book — is a learning process. I try something, it doesn’t work, so I try something else. And Chapter One was not working. At least not right now. So I’m going to put it aside, let the words flow elsewhere, and come back to this intro later, when I’m ready.