Why are beginnings so damn hard?

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Everyone who knows me, and some who don’t, are more than fully aware that I’m working on editing the Dark Queen of Darkness. I just finished up the first round of developmental edits, which are back with the editor (Jette Harris). However, I’m not even remotely close to done yet. My process thus far has been to run through her suggestions, pick off low-hanging fruit and then go once through for each of the larger issues to ensure consistency. This usually starts with starting at the beginning. Every time I start at the beginning, I inevitably fidget with the first few paragraphs. It’s killing me.

I wrote the first paragraph to the dark queen almost 3 years ago and it was fucking great. So, naturally, I’ve hated it ever since. The current incarnation is:

There was no mistaking the dark tower. It was the tallest, blackest, and most evil looking tower in the whole of the dark kingdom. Hexe, the dark queen, had built it specifically to say dark queen and sorceress right down to the foundations. She’d even gone so far as to have the words property of the dark queen etched on every stone. The tower was an imposing and unlovely sight, much like Hexe herself, tall, narrow, and nothing but sharp, plain angles.

I think it’s repetitive, not very grabby, and absolutely perfect at the same time. This is not a good place to be when you’re supposed to be editing. At this point, all I have from Jette (the editor) on this is that it’s fine, but maybe not got quite enough hook. As with all of the advice and feedback offered by Jette, thus far, I feel in my gut that she’s quite right. The problem here is that I’m so incredibly close to the work, especially this paragraph, that I’m unable to tackle it with a properly dispassionate approach.

My favorite book openings are those offered by Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, and JK Rowling. They tend to be chatty and easy. They give the narrator a minute to bring the reader up to speed before launching into the main thrust of the work. And as I write this, I wonder if examining pieces by those authors might not be instructive – A wise writer once suggested I open a few of the books I like and highlight passages that work. Maybe that’s the answer here. Don’t just look at the words on the page, look at why another author’s intro works.

I don’t know what else to say about this, except that for every book I’ve written, the same problem exists. I hate the intro and also love it just the way it is.

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So, what’s next? – a progress report

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My sun-room window overlooks a swamp, which is currently full of leafless trees. They’re dripping with fresh rain that should have come down in the form of three or four inches of fluffy snow. Our little flock of ducks are happily waddling about the yard grubbing, for who knows what, in the muddy ground. I, however, am sitting here, thinking about writing and not actually doing it.

Right now, my current project has progressed to being about 1/2 to 3/4s done with chapter 16 (for context, this is about 72,000 words through the book). The next few chapters charge into territory I haven’t yet covered in any draft. This is partly because the original ‘next chapter’ has been moved off to chapter one of the subsequent book. However, that’s not the main reason it’s uncharted for me. While it’s true I’ve spent countless hours on nit-picky details, various bits of polishing, and improvement in content and craft, I’ve never been this close to the end of a book.

Instead of all of the motivation and excitement I should be feeling, I’m dreading what’s coming next. Shouldn’t I be pleased with my progress? After all, I’ve nearly passed an important milestone in my writing career. For whatever reason, I just can’t mentally bring myself to that place. It’s not that I’m totally lost on what to do next. In fact, what needs to happen is pretty clear, but it’s going to be difficult, and like anything that seems hard, it’s causing me a major procrastination jag.

The ending has to be tidy, exciting, and fill in some open questions, while at the same time building up to the next book. Most importantly, everything needs to come to the inevitable ending that’s not so predictable the reader knew how it was going to end by somewhere in the 4th chapter. I seriously doubt I’m going to have that problem. What I may have trouble with though is making that riveting and inevitable ending plausible.

I suppose the only course of action here is to just get the lead out. Once I get started, the last few chapters shouldn’t really take more than a few weeks to draft up. As always, there’s revision and polishing to clean up any messes, and feedback from those helpful test-readers who have already given me a tremendous amount of help.

Relentless

The only word that could possibly do justice to today’s weather is relentless. The wind is blowing at about 35mph, and gusting to around sixty, though I’m pretty sure that last night we were breaking toward 80. The Oxford English Dictionary (the thirteen volume version) simply defines this word as Incapable of relenting; pitiless. This is a pretty good description of what’s going on here. It would be cold without the wind, and when it’s cold, the wind seems to have so much more force behind it. The OED also contains this little gem on the word.

1798 Edgeworth Pract. Educ. I. 380 Few things can be more terrific..to the young writer than the voice of relentless criticism.”

I don’t know that I ever feel terrific about criticism, but I certainly appreciate it and find the result of responding to it close to terrific.