The End Makes the Best Beginning

The End Makes the Best Beginning

boy crossing race finish line with his arms in the air to celebrate

The End! CC image “Mike to Mike Half Marathon” courtesy of Fort Bragg on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Most of your readers will start reading your book at the beginning. That doesn’t mean you should start writing there.

The beginnings of books are notoriously tough to pin down. So much rides on those first pages, even the first sentences. You want to hook the reader, make them interested in what the rest of the book has to say. You should provide enough information to set the stage for the rest of the book. You need to convince your readers that yes, you can string a sentence together and make it interesting as well as error-free. That’s a lot riding on the beginning of your book.

No wonder so many authors get stuck there.

You might think that the beginning is a good place to start, but often it’s not. Starting with the end is better.

Why the end is a better place to start your book

Every book has a destination. Each novel has a place where the character(s) end up (even if you’re not quite sure how they get there), and every nonfiction book drives towards a logical or narrative conclusion that you, the author, know in advance of the writing.

Beginnings, on the other hand, are more of a struggle. You need a lot of information in order to begin properly. Imagine that I ask you to introduce a speaker at a major conference, a person you haven’t met and don’t know anything about, and you have no idea what the title of their talk is. How well do you think your introduction is going to go?

You can’t know the information to include in the beginning of your book until you get to the end.

Another good reason to deal with your ending first is that the beginning and ending of a book should “talk” to each other. This is not your diary or your journal. Open-ended ramblings won’t sell your book. What you want is to provide your reader a reason to continue reading.

You need tension, anticipation…setting expectations and then perhaps subverting them by the time the book ends. When you start first with your ending, you create the structure that allows you to build that tension, anticipation, and interest. You’re putting a viewing platform in the wildlife viewing area so you can see what’s going on.

Think about the last book which you really enjoyed. That book probably felt like a whole from beginning to end. The themes and storylines tied into each other, forward and backward across the chapters. Topics or subplots didn’t dangle or disappear—they were all there for a reason, and possibly the writer used them as the setup for an exciting sequel. In a word, the different parts of the book talked to each other.

Do you think the author took care of all this cross-referencing and setup during their first chapter, on their first time through? You’re dreaming.

Your book writing process will not go as planned

It sounds awful, I know. But it’s a law of the universe.

What you think of as the beginning may in fact turn out to be Chapter Two. Or, only a cousin to what your book ends up actually being about.

Books change and evolve as we write them. Even with the best of intentions and a great outline (sorry, planners), you can’t avoid this.

You’ll discover logical gaps that you didn’t realize existed; you’ll remember important information; you’ll realize you’re talking to the wrong audience. Writing a book is a process of evolution. This is why it’s so difficult to stop writing and revising your book: one change leads to the next leads to the next, and so on.

But when you begin with the end in mind, you can navigate this change. You have a goal. It’s like GPS. You can find your way to the destination on a number of different routes. Which is great news because the end can pull you through writer’s block and refocus your narrative when the story appears aimless.

The bottom line

Do yourself a favor and don’t spend much time on the beginning of your book until you reach the end. Sketch out your setup or your introduction, and dive right into the meat of the story. Better yet, nail down what you think the end looks like, and then circle back from there.

The last part of your book that you should write is the beginning.

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