This week in our writing group we worked on openings. We each selected an unpublished work, excised our first paragraph to a separate sheet of paper (to keep the work discrete and achievable), and rewrote our openings. We began with the first sentence.
This was hard work. That one sentence carries a heavy burden, a pack laden with all the supplies for a journey before the reader has consumed a single morsel to lighten the load: tone, setup, character, summary, the launch, a hook. The essence of the entire piece.
1. For inspiration, I pulled favorite novels off the shelf and copied first lines into my notebook, like this one from A Prayer For Owen Meany:
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. (John Irving)
Wow. Right? I mean, I was ready to put everything down and start reading Owen Meany again. But then I realized I don’t write fiction, and I certainly don’t write novels, so maybe I should find inspiration in the type of work I do write: creative nonfiction. I made a list of essays and nonfiction pieces that have stuck with me, and I dug through internet bookmarks and compilations of The Best American Essays to find their openings. Here are the ones I wrote in my notebook. Notice the compelling titles; the title carries tremendous weight as well, and when combined with a great opening, a title can be unstoppable.
2. So You Hate Short Stories? by Jacob Tomsky on Book Riot
I always hated short stories.
I considered reading a short story like going out to dinner and only ordering an appetizer. Want a real meal? Eat a goddamn novel.
3. Rejection Sucks and Then You Die: How to Take a Dear Sad Sack Letter (And Shove It) by Alexis Paige on The Rumpus
Maybe the rejection letter was curt, churned out like a widget, or maybe it was wordy, with a misused semicolon, and penned in a respectable Serif font.
4. Seven Essays I meet in My Literary Heaven by Jennifer Niesslein on Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog
1. The Essay that Manages to Be Funny, Poignant, and Thought-Provoking All at the Same Time.
5. This Is Not a “Travel Blog” (But It Is a Travel Blog) by Cheri Lucas Rowlands on Writing Through the Fog
In her essay about life on tour with a rock band, Claire L. Evans says that travel teaches her more about time than it does about place. I agree.
My favorite kind of “travel writing” — or I suppose writing about place — embarks on an inner journey, and uses a physical location as a diving board into one’s depths, into their mind.
6. A Hidden Writing Life by Simone Gorrindo on Vela Magazine
For the first time in my life, I have a room of my own in which to write.
7. An Unwanted Guest by Simone Gorrindo on Vela Magazine
I didn’t see the jellyfish, but I felt it—a searing pain at my ankle that shot up through my leg, bringing me, in a matter of seconds, to my knees in the sand.
8. “Small Rooms in Time” by Ted Kooser in River Teeth (The Best American Essays 2005)
Several years ago, a fifteen-year-old boy answered the door of a house where I once lived and was murdered, shot twice by one of five people – two women and three men – who had gone there to steal a pound of cocaine.
9. Swerve by Brenda Miller on Brevity
I’m sorry about that time I ran over a piece of wood in the road. A pound of marijuana in the trunk and a faulty brake light—any minute the cops might have pulled us over, so you were edgy already, and then I ran over that piece of stray lumber without even slowing down.
Enjoy, and I hope you find inspiration from these too.