The fresh page of a notebook, the blankness of the screen—both paralyze me like a stunned tabby cat many times in my life.
I’d wrestle with the introduction or the first line of a poem until I’m able to flow steadily through the piece. Where it will take and leave me I’d have no clue.
Some writers are the Hemingway’s who go by the saying “Write drunk, edit sober.” In my case, I have the tendency to write and edit as I go, which I will admit oftentimes makes me much slower in progress and sick with symptoms of perfectionism. I’ve never actively tried to change this habit, and probably never will.
With a Gavel on Hand
Writing the first line or introduction is a process I’d liken to breaking glass. The untouched paper looks and feels so delicate and virgin that I’d feel wary of staining it with corny or laughable images. Nonetheless, it’s glass I have to break to move on.
How I begin writing differs at various times and situations. There would be days when I’m able to break the glass and pour the words out. This usually happens when I’ve a sentence, phrase, or a single word that I just knew had to be in the poem. There would then be days when all I could do is fumble with potential sentences, hitting the Backspace key like a madwoman and praying for illumination.
One thing remains constant though, and that’s creative closure. I can never leave a poem or an article unfinished if it still has potential to grow into finished work. I only throw in the towel and start anew when there just isn’t hope left or if the piece didn’t feel or sound right no matter how much I twist and turn.
Five Potential Beginnings
Being a student in all things, I looked for potential answers to the problem. Reading about how other writers start, the first word or line usually begins with a trigger, a stimulus that begins the unraveling.
Five potential beginnings worked for me on various occasions:
- Focus on the image. I would think deeply of the image, pinning it to the ground as I analyze it. I’d study and play with it in my mind until I am able to discover an experience that I would truly want to write and share with my reader.
- Use your senses. Sometimes, all it takes is a couple of minutes to sit down, remain calm, and feel the experience that you are trying to express. The best way (in my experience) is to use the core senses. Touch the subject matter with your hands. Taste it, smell it, listen to it.
- Quote. As you walk down the road or visit your local library, you may have chanced upon a line spoken in such a way that it doesn’t leave your mind. It somehow affects you, and you want to preserve that connection. You can take it home with you and explore the possibilities of that experience.
- Ask a question. I downloaded a free e-book written by a fellow writer (she’s more on web content) where she compiled a series of quotations by other, popular web writers about how to begin a blog post. About four of those writers suggested beginning a piece with a question, which works if you’re going for a conversational tone from the get-go.
- Speak to the you. There are various ways to address the subject matter, one of which is the classical “you” where the speaker would address a second figure in the poem. I would do so with either a question, a description, or a recalling. It would depend on the tone and mood that I am going for as I write.
I’m sure there are plenty of other ways to begin, many of which are more research-based or that would require one step outside of the room and be with the world. The important thing is to finally break the glass and unravel the piece that one is meant to create.
1. How Do You Begin a Poem?: Six poets answer this question at the 2011 Poets Forum held in New York City.