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Last week, one of my students and I were talking about a project she’s been struggling with for a few years now. She’s brought the manuscript to several workshops and critique groups, tried starting it in various places, and has found herself consistently stuck.
When I asked her if she’d been able to get through a first draft, she admitted that she’s been so focused on getting the beginning “right” that it’s kept her from getting very far into the story.
Essentially, she’s in what I call “workshop purgatory,” which is when you keep getting feedback on your story opening, revising based on that feedback, only to get more feedback, etc. I think most of us have been there. You spend so much energy on perfecting your opening that you never actually get to the end of the story, thus trapping yourself in revision limbo forever.
My advice? Pretend the beginning is perfect and just keep going until the end. There are two reasons for this:
1. If you never get to the end of the story then it doesn’t matter how perfect your beginning is.
2. What if you find by the end of the story might completely change what happens at the beginning.
I think it can be immensely helpful to get feedback from fellow writers on how to make your beginnings stronger while you’re still figuring the story out. The more solid your opening, the easier the rest of the story will be to write. But, like everything else, it’s about balance. You can’t keep tinkering with an opening and never move beyond it.
That’s why, even though I like to revise as I’m drafting, I make sure that I keep writing new scenes along with revising the old. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to get stuck on making the book perfect…and never actually write it. That’s how I wound up with dozens of unfinished manuscripts before I finally learned how to get to The End.
Have you ever found yourself in Revision Limbo?