Beginnings of romance novels are supposed to be easier—less difficult—to write than ends or (cue ominous music) middles. There is a great deal of business to transact at the beginning of the book. The dramatis personae must strut, mince, waltz, thunder or crawl onto the stage; hero and heroine must Meet and perhaps even enjoy or suffer through their First Kiss; external conflicts must be strongly hinted at if they don’t get center stage; secondary characters and subplots have to get some mention; the requirements of setting must be appeased.
At the beginning of a book, the issue of what to write about is subsumed under all that busyness, and yet sometimes, even the beginning of a book eludes us. The first line won’t present itself. The first scene keeps developing a limp. The Meet has no chemistry. The hero and heroine have too much chemistry and all of it is bad. The secondary characters are too charming, witty, or intriguing to serve in their intended roles.
And sometimes, we get into those dark, miserable corners where no words come at all. We are beginning-less, and then we become very prone to endings.
When the beginnings won’t come, we fret that they’ll never come and our writing career is over. We polish and buff and read over old material until we’re no longer polishing, we’re sanding it down to something dull and boring. We consider our own big black moment—quitting.
I attended a panel discussion at a Georgia Romance Writer’s conference on the topic of “When the Words Won’t Come.” Four published authors all discussed very frankly what it’s like to be without any beginnings at all. The room was nowhere near full, almost as if the topic itself had the power to shut down our creativity.
In the course of the discussion though, one panelist lead us through the creation of a first sentence, one word at a time. It took better than an hour, while we listened to each writer explain what had robbed her of her beginnings, and how she recovered the gift of starting a book. Beginnings are fragile, it turns out. They are not easy at all. They take hope and courage and the ability to withstand significant anxiety about middles, ends, and more beginnings.
Beginnings can require that we have physical and mental health or financial stability. They can demand that we see the end even before we start. They can seize our joie de vivre and creativity and throttle them within an inch of their existence. I developed a new respect for beginnings at that panel discussion.
So the next time a single sentence pops into your head worth exploring, rejoice. The next time a scene occurs to you while you're folding the laundry, give thanks. The next time your secondary characters have the decency to politely hint they might enjoy having their own book, be grateful. If nothing else has come clear for me, it’s that a beginning--of a book, a career, a relationship, anything--must not be taken for granted, and is a terrible thing to waste.