Starts and Fits

If dumping your first few paragraphs doesn’t result in a good opening, look over what you’ve written with the sole purpose of finding the strongest sentence in the whole piece. If you have trouble, maybe ask a well-read friend or two to help find some candidates. (Or they might be able to see how many paragraphs should be cut at the start.)

Once you’ve identified the sentence, make that your opening and rework the rest of the piece to fit that new beginning. You may only need to redo the next few sentences or paragraphs to make it flow well. Sometimes it may require more extensive reorganization of the whole.

Work hard at your opening, but don’t obsess about it. It doesn’t have to be great. Good can be good enough. In fact, you’ve probably already written it – somewhere in the middle. 

Looking to the middle could have helped even as accomplished a writer as Malcolm Gladwell. Later in Blink, Gladwell offers an equally compelling story of Abbie Conant, who in 1980 auditioned as a trombonist for the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra. She and the others all performed behind a screen so the decision-making committee would focus on the music and not be distracted by appearances. During Abbit’s turn she cracked a note and thought, It’s over for me. After she finished playing she immediately began to pack up to leave, knowing she wouldn’t be selected. But after her solo, the music director cried out, “That’s who we want,” and sent everyone else away who was waiting to audition. When she walked out in front of the committee, they were shocked. They didn’t expect a woman to play a “masculine” instrument like the trombone with such confidence and authority.

The story made Gladwell’s point. Amateurs like you and me would have no idea which of the trombonists would have been best. They would have all sounded equally good. Experts can tell the difference. But even experts have blind spots. Their intuition and expertise are not enough. We all need help overcoming our biases. Using a screen to hide age, gender, and ethnicity has revolutionized the makeup of orchestras in recent decades. Now they truly have the best in the world available to them, and they are more diverse.

If Gladwell had looked for the most fitting story for Blink (even if it wasn’t quite as powerful as a story about $10 million and the elite, world-famous Getty Museum getting hoodwinked by a fake statue), he might have pulled this account of the musical audition to the front. The story would have been a better one for Gladwell to begin with because its conclusions more closely fit the overall theme he wanted to convey in the book. Expertise and intuition are still important and valuable, but they need to be guarded with procedures that take bias out of the equation.

Beginnings matter. But when crafting a beginning, look to the middle. 
from “Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality” by Andrew T. Le Peau, Intervarsity Press