Nothing is harder to do than to start writing. And when you look for advice you're quite likely to be told to begin at the beginning. Personally I think the beginning is an awful place to start.

Whatever truth you're about to tell—the opening of a thriller (N.B. no good novel is ever untrue) or the first paragraph of an article for the local paper—your task is to grab the reader's attention. That's never been easy to do. Nowadays there are so many competing demands on what used to be called “reading time” it can be a monumental task.

You need to look for the heart of your story—what makes it alive—and start there. Maybe you're writing a memoir about your life singing with a blues band. Please promise me you won't start by talking about your mom and dad back in Omaha, and how the only music they cared about was produced by the church choir.

Much better to start with perhaps the first time you set foot on stage. How you came on after the guy with the harmonica had been waving you forward for what seemed like forever. And then, when you finally worked up the courage to walk on stage, you were so overwhelmed with the smoke drifting up from the audience you were sure you'd choke as soon as you opened your mouth. And how that's exactly what happened.

As for the folks back home in Omaha and how they got there, you'll get to that. And you won't forget how the family reacted when Grandma married her sixth husband. But this is a story about what happened to you, not them. So begin with something that actually still lingers deep in your gut, Do the head-parts, the stuff you know but don't necessarily feel, in flashback. (And I promise a piece on flashbacks in the not too distant future.)

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