The best beginning is the one you can do.
This applies both to the beginning of novels, and “simply” to starting to write, or to establishing a writing schedule.
There are all sorts of books and instructions on how to start any of those, but what they leave out is: just begin any way you can. The rest will follow.
With novels, there are all kinds of ways to begin, including setting the tone of the book in the first paragraph. The theme in the first page. Make sure you start with the character who is central to the conflict, because readers are like ducklings, they imprint on the first moving thing they see.
However, you can always fix it in post. You can always go back and fix that beginning so it points the right way. You can lose the first fifty pages (beginning writers consistently start fifty pages too early.) Etc.
What you can’t make up for if you don’t do is: begin.
Lately I’ve been having this problem with a lot of things: I know what to do. I know how to do it. But I seem incapable of beginning.
It started with driving, which means it flew under the radar, because I’ve never LIKED driving. The uncoordinated, bad at sports kid who never got picked up for a team till the last bitter end. So I don’t trust myself driving, and never have. So, after two years of not driving (the car was being weird, and I was terrified of being stranded then my glasses were off. How off? Well, I fell going UPSTAIRS. A lot.)
So I stopped driving. And then when I wanted to start driving again it was like…. on the way to starting there was this huge step, like six feet high, and I couldn’t get to it to start.
I know, rationally, that I can drive, and I’m actually pretty good at it. (I had a particular defensive driving class, trying to get the fear out, and the instructor thought I was nuts, because I was already using all the techniques they teach people.) But there’s that first step, and unless it’s an emergency, I can’t start.
This seemed to be driving specific, until I found I also couldn’t speak French. For complete understanding of this, French was my second language, and I used to be as fluent in it as I am in English. Maybe more? I still can read in French as I do in English, and sometimes, when I fall down an internet rabbit hole, I don’t realize I’m reading in French, until afterwards, when I try to show something to Dan.
However, in a situation where speaking French is needed, I find that first step again, and it’s six feet high, and I can’t get up it. The words assemble in my head, but no power on Earth can get them out of my mouth.
I thought “Okay, that’s weird, but I’m out of practice.” Right?
Then after the move from hell I found the same thing happening to writing fiction. It was second nature for so long, and then, suddenly, there was that six foot first step, and I couldn’t get to it.
Until…. well, I had promised LawDog a story for his malta anthology. And I hadn’t written a short story in forever.
So there I was, trying to write it, because I’d promised.
It came out completely backwards. For the longest time, I had a paragraph and couldn’t figure out how to go on. This is because it was in fact the last paragraph of the story.
Once I figured that out, the story just came. And then I realized, it’s all still there, yes.
So, why the big issue with starting?
Recently a conversation with a friend that faced some of the same issues and who has knowledge of psychology/physiology clarified it.
All the mental linkages to do the work are still there. I can write/drive/speak French. It’s just that for whatever reason the initial linkage that sends the order to “now do the thing” got lost.
So I send the order to the brain “let’s do x”. And brain goes “no can do boss, there’s no lever to push to do this.”
But it’s only the initial lever that’s missing. Everything else is still there.
So the way to do it is to force it. Little steps. Just write a paragraph, then figure out where it goes. Just say a sentence in French, and let other people figure it out. Just get in the car and get used to being behind the wheel. Then drive around the block. Then drive around two blocks.
Rebuild the initial linkage again, so when you say “We’re going to do this” the brain has that lever and it’s not unobtanium.
Weirdly this is exactly the same as a driving-fear-desensitization program I bought. Get in the car, sit down, listen to some music. Pull in and out of the drive way. Now take it for a drive around the block.
Or as Peterson puts it “Sometimes you’re so broken, all you can do is look at your closet, and decide what needs to be done.” That’s all you can do today and that’s enough.
So, the point of beginning is to begin. No matter how small.
Do it today.