The Anti-Opening Opening

Going against expectations to capture attention is a theme found in many of the options already mentioned. We can also go even further by starting with something that isn’t an opening at all. 

And speaking of gifts, I should tell you a rule.

Robert Fulghum, “Brass Rule,” All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

Fulghum hadn’t been speaking or writing of gifts at all in this essay. In fact, he hadn’t been writing anything. He jumps right in, though, as if he had, catching us off-guard, pulling us in by making us ask, “Did I miss something here?” We look at the previous page. No, that’s no help. We start again and keep reading to figure out what in the world is going on here. We’ve been caught.

Yet perhaps the ultimate in a nonopening opening is from Robert Farrar Capon’s An Offering of Uncles, which goes like this::

Actor: Well.

Lector: Well, what?

Actor: Well, here we are.

Lector: But this is preposterous. An author is supposed to begin more surefootedly.

Actor: Ah, but beginning is not that easy.

Lector: If you find it such a problem, why do you insist upon authoring?

Author: Because I have something to say.

Lector: Thank heaven for that. What is it?

Author: If I could tell you, I would have said it already.

Lector: Oh. And I suppose that since you have not said it, you cannot tell me?

Author: Precisely.

Lector: My congratulations. Your book is a model of brevity.

Author: Not quite. We are not yet ready to talk about a book, only a beginning. 

And my beginning is a model not of brevity but of honesty. The start of a book, you see, can be written either before or after the book itself. If before, it will be an honest but shakily written piece of business during which the author struggles to get his feet under him, and from which he escapes the first chance he gets. If afterward, it will be a piece of Fine Writing in which he ticks off briefly and with utterly fake aplomb all the things he has spent months trying to keep himself glued together long enough to say. In the first case it is a beginning, but not worth reading, and in the second it is readable, but no beginning. There is, therefore, no way to begin a book both honestly and successfully.

Despite his protestations, Capon is definitely a surefooted author, beginning with immense confidence (and a touch of humor) under the guise of not knowing what he is doing. 

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, he also hits upon the problem all writers face. How do you begin before you begin? He’s right, of course. Prefaces and introductions are typically written last. That is often the case with the beginnings of chapters, blogs, articles, or newsletters. We only find our opening late in the process. 

from “Write Better: A Lifelong Editor on Craft, Art, and Spirituality” by Andrew T. Le Peau, Intervarsity Press