Tools for Discovery Writers: Beginning

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Lao Tzu

I love discovery writing because the story evolves as I transfer ideas into scenes. There’s only two prerequisites for my process. I require a character and a central conflict. The ending often surprises me because I don’t know where the plot is going. If the author can’t see the ending coming, the reader ought to be surprised too. That’s good. Unfortunately, discovery writing means meandering through the beginning. This post focuses on beginnings, especially as a discovery writer, and how to push through the uncertain start.

Hooks are the most important part of every story. One might argue the ending is equally important, as is the middle, but hooks take the narrative cake. If you don’t reel in the reader they’ll never read the second act, and they’ll definitely never read your twist ending. They’ll put down the book. Disengagement by a reader is a terrible fate for a novel. We write to be read, and the hook will determine if you are read before everything else. Sure, once you’ve reeled in the reader you need to enthrall them with the rest, but the hook comes first. That’s why I think it’s the most important.

I always struggle with hooks. The beginning sticks out as the sore thumb of my rough drafts. That’s okay, at least I’m self aware. I write crappy beginnings because I’m discovering the path. It’s kind of like a cartographer in unknown lands. You don’t know the geography of your story until you map out the landscape. The rough draft serves as a map and the first steps are often misdirected.

Give me a crappy beginning every time. I know how to fix a slow start with rewriting. Better to have a rough draft with a slow start than no rough draft with no start. Some writers rewrite their first scene or line a thousand times, never moving past the first chapter. Getting caught in an editing loop can be detrimental to progress, especially for a discovery writer. I recommend not reading your work until you write the end.

I don’t worry about my crap first scene until I’m finished drafting the book. How can I even know what a good beginning will be when I don’t know the ending? I cut an average of ten thousand words from my three novels to date, writing the beginning up to ten times. The beginning of my rough drafts are usually listless and without direction, as it’s clear I was trying to find out who these characters are and what they are doing. By the time I reach the third chapter or so I’m hitting my stride and getting comfortable in character. The endings are usually the strongest part of my rough drafts.

Write your beginning without being too critical. Take off your editing hat. No pressing delete! Just get that hobbling start onto the page and move forward so you can get to the seed of the story. You’ll be better equipped to write the beginning well when you’ve finished the first draft. Just don’t get too attached. Understand that your beginning will need to be revamped. You may even get ideas for a better beginning later in the draft. Note these down in a file and save them for the inevitable reshaping.

Do you write killer beginnings? Are your beginnings all over the place? Drop in the comments and share your experience, I’d love to hear from you. Follow for more writing tips from a daily discovery writer.

4 thoughts on “Tools for Discovery Writers: Beginning

    1. Yes, the middle can definitely cause problems. The journey between point A and B can be tough. I try to up the conflict in each consecutive scene, and have lots of interesting character development. Also action. Plenty of action. Thanks for sharing. 🙂


  1. I haven’t written fiction since high school, really, but last fall I read a novel by Dawn Powell titled _Dance Night_. Sort of a “B” novel, but more interesting for that reason. I got to the end of it having enjoyed the ride. I doubt if she outlined the plot before writing, and I got the sense that anything could happen in her hands. Powell wrote it in the mid-1930s. I still go back to reading her when I want an adventure.

    Thanks for this post.


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