During the Monday night writer's workshop I regularly attend, we were given a simple writer's prompt of which we had eight minutes to finish. The prompt: Start writing from these three words, "Our story begins..." Something clicked in my mind, and I started typing (Yes, I am the guy who types instead of writes). Eight minutes later, we put down our pens (and keyboards), then read what we did. Everyone did surprisingly well, really exploring the prompt's potential. After I read mine, the writer next to me leaned over and said, "I think you just wrote Friday's blog post." Turns out, she made an excellent point. And on that note, here's what I wrote:
This is something weird to tell a writer, but I tell every beginning writer and novelist-to-be that their story begins at the end.
Why? Very simple. People go into the process of writing a story because they have something bouncing around their brain that they want to get out. I know I sure did. And when they finally take that big step, when they commit to writing the Great American Novel, well, that’s where the rubber hits the road. Or so they think.
Actually, I tell them it’s a very important part of the journey, but it’s not the journey. The writing of that story is more like sitting over a fold-out road map (I’ll oldsplain what that is later), looking at different routes, circling truck stops on the way, and figuring out just how to get there.
People look at me confused. “But… But… I’m writing. How can I not yet be at the beginning if I’m already writing?”
I say, “Yes, you’re writing. And in that, you are discovering a lot of things. Most importantly, you are trying to find out where the story begins. And when you reach the end, you will know where.”
Indeed, writing a story is technically, chronologically, how the story starts. It’s the act of conception, the first thing to illuminate the writer’s mind and take then from event to event, from chapter to chapter, from act one to act two to act three and the dramatic finish. However, this entire process of creation is all about discovery. It is the mixing of ingredients, the brewing of the potion. It is more important than anything else, but it’s not where the story starts.
Let me offer you this: When you write your first novel – and I hope you do, and that many more follow – I want you to savor the act of creation but not get seduced by it, because a greater love is on its way. The story truly starts the moment you’ve finished that first draft. That’s when the magic happens.