Sometimes the first thing we write needs to be last. In my case, an opening paragraph is the last thing I write.
When I was a newspaper reporter, I discovered, much to my dismay, that I was incapable of writing opening paragraphs. I had an editor, sitting just a few feet away in the pit, who always sighed when he opened digital copy of my stories. I knew what that meant. Once again, I fell short of the mark and my work was crying for a stellar opening paragraph.
I also knew what would happen next. He would start typing.
Read. Sigh. Type. Every article, every day.
And, in that newsroom, my load was three articles a day. That was a lot of humiliation.
My humiliation became a motivator. I was truly embarrassed that I was missing the target every single time. What was worse was that I actually thought I was writing respectable opening paragraphs.
In retrospect, I had the world’s most tolerant editor. He kept me on. He believed in my ability enough to tolerate my glaring weakness. He very gently mentioned to me a couple of times that I needed an opening paragraph. And, then he typed it in. After all, we were always on deadline.
Humiliated, I was determined to do better. I did a comparison of every single story I had written, holding each one up against my editor’s version. In every single instance, my editor’s version, with an extra paragraph, was much better.
I wanted to protest. I wanted to insist that I was convincing myself that the edited version was better merely out of respect for my supervisor. But, no, I had to admit it. His version was better.
I learned two lessons from that experience. The first lesson is one that holds up to this day.
Every single time I have been edited, it has been for the better. It is still difficult to part with my version.
I work hard to pen my work. But, yes, a second set of eyes was a good thing and it still is. In fact, in that newsroom, two humans edited every story we wrote before it was released to the public.
The second, and perhaps the more important lesson, I learned was how to write a good opening paragraph. Everyone needs a technique. For some people, I do believe it is organic. For me? I have to focus. I needed a technique, a process, a method.
The interesting thing was that both editors kept what I thought was my opening paragraph. They didn’t replace it. They just added the missing opening paragraph.
I developed the technique of writing my opening paragraph last. I write that way to this day. And, editors are thrilled.
I cannot tell you how great it felt the day when my editor opened one of my news articles—and I heard no sigh, followed by typing. He read it. He almost smiled. He put it back in the queue for the second editing.
That was the day I knew I could write. No, that was the day I knew I could author.
Until that time, I had merely been writing words and good, but incomplete, copy. I was never told my copy was not good. It was just incomplete. I had such a tendency to leap into the story. I was missing that first paragraph that would grab the reader.
My editor had patiently gone through every story, crafting that missing opening that should have been there. So I mimicked what they were doing. I wrote the opening after everything else was done.
Anyone can write words. I could type words from the dictionary and still not be an author. I was merely a writer. That day, I became an author.
We all have to start somewhere. This is my story about how I learned to write the first thing last.