I didn’t manage to post a Sunday Style last week — I was wiped out from my four-week intensive memoir/personal essay workshop with Lisa Romeo. Our last week was about beginnings and endings. One of the key points for me about beginnings is to start in the middle. Forget all the set-up at the front, you can go back and fill in later. Instead, begin in the action where you will grip the reader. Check out these first sentences, they drop you right in the action:
After two nights in a row of insomnia, I finally got to bed the other night at a reasonable hour, only to be shaken awake at midnight by my 15-year-old son. My first thought was that we had an intruder, and I reached for the tennis racket I keep by my bed in case I needed to kill someone. “No, no, Mom, I just can’t sleep,” he cried out plaintively. (Anne Lamott, What She Gave)
Her name was Ann, and we met in the Port Authority Bus Terminal several Januaries ago. I was doing a story on homeless people. She said I was wasting my time talking to her; she was just passing through, although she’d been passing through for more than two weeks. To prove to me that this was true, she rummaged through a tote bag and a manila envelope and finally unfolded a sheet of typing paper and brought out her photographs. (Anna Quindlen, Homeless)
Both of these show how when a writer jumps right in, the reader wants to follow. And, not to mention the tennis racket detail. That is priceless!
And, on the other side, don’t write past the ending. When you’re revising, ask yourself: did your essay actually stop a paragraph or a sentence before this ending?
Here’s an example from one of my in-progress essays:
For the sake of this other, mystery mother, I wipe down the counters not once but twice. The lemon scent from the wipes stings my eyes. I am careful to place my used paper towels in the trash can.
I hope that somehow following her instructions will help.
This is a good example of where less might be more. Do I really need that final sentence? After feedback from my instructor, Lisa, and my writer-friend, Jenni, I don’t think I need that final sentence. It’s a case of writing past the end. Try re-reading this ending and leave out the last sentence. What do you think? Now try it with your own writing — maybe the beginning is really the end, or maybe your last parapgraph should really be your first? Maybe not, but if you mix it up and try, you’re likely to find out a few things in the process that will help your writing in the end.
Lisa’s workshop was excellent. She’s offering more online workshops in the near future. For information, check out her blog here.