Writing Non Fiction – Getting Past the First Three Chapters

March 27, 2013
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Lisa Dale Norton

 

 

 

 

Lisa Dale Norton

 

Your Life as Story: Writing Non Fiction
Getting Past the First Three Chapters

April, 2013

Spring is the time of year when legions of writers leap into new writing projects. A sentence or image drives you into the opening of your story. You move forward with verve for two or three chapters. And then the energy wanes. The writer in you loses interest. Your mind encounters the idea of writer's block . . . you've heard of that . . . and then suddenly gardening, rappelling, designing a new app, or antique car restoration blazes into view as the next best thing.

A few weeks/months/years later, you circle around, and return, again, to the beginning of the story–a fresh start! That's what's needed!

This pattern can perpetuate for decades. Just as it is with people–always a fresher, younger, prettier, more handsome, richer, version around the corner–there will always be a more tantalizing opening for the story, singing you toward the shoals.

"Spring is the time of year when legions of writers leap into new writing projects."
—NORTON

One woman I know has been writing, with admirable intentions, the same memoir for nearly thirty years. Each time she nears the end of the manuscript–a moment of truth when a writer must close an experience and assign meaning to the life events explored–she decides a better beginning is needed. And off she goes to start all over again.

" It is a seductive thought, the idea that if only the beginning were different the story would all come together "
NORTON

It is a seductive thought, the idea that if only the beginning were different the story would all come together more coherently. It's true, as you write you do get smarter about what events in the past meant to you; wisdom dawns. There is some momentary logic in starting over and getting it right from the first sentence, but to be a writer who completes projects, there is no logic in it at all.

Here's the truth:

1) You must commit to A BEGINNING, one singular option, for the opening of the manuscript.

"No matter how flawed it may feel to you as you progress, you must keep going forward."
NORTON

2) You must push forward from that idea and realize a complete draft of the story. No matter how flawed it may feel to you as you progress, you must keep going forward.

Yes, the beginning you choose may not be perfect; it may need to be reworked . . . in the end. But that's the point: The time to rewrite the beginning of a manuscript is after the beginning, middle, and resolution are patched in, when you know the full scope of the narrative arc. Then it is easier to go back and see what needs to be changed.

One way to commit to a singular beginning and stick with it is to work with an editor, or writing teacher, who can help clarify the story line and your process, someone who can steer your creative ship toward harbor, keeping you on course.

Another way is with a small group of writers invested with that same responsibility: keeping you on track, while you do the same for them. Join or form a circle of writers who are invested with the primary goal of completing manuscripts. (Make sure someone in the group is a little further along in their mastery of writing skills than you are.) Or find a class, local or on-line, that supports completion of manuscripts. Look closely at who is leading the group or class. Consider that person's track record.

"Your goal is to finish the manuscript"
NORTON

Your goal is to finish the manuscript, and the only way to do that is to get past the first three chapters.

About Lisa Dale Norton

Lisa Dale Norton is a regular Authorlink columnist. She is nationally recognized as a writing instructor with a passion for story. 

Lisa Dale Norton's new book about memoir, SHIMMERING IMAGES: A HANDY LITTLE GUIDE TO WRITING MEMOIR (St. Martin's Press), is in bookstores now. Lisa is the author of the acclaimed memoir HAWK FLIES ABOVE: JOURNEY TO THE HEART OF THE SANDHILLS, a work combining memoir and nature writing. She teaches for the UCLA Writers' Extension Program and speaks nationally on the process of memoir. She lives in Santa Fe. Read more about Lisa. www.lisadalenorton.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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