Slice of Life: In the Beginning…

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I have started this slice three times throughout the day. After my first two failed attempts, I asked myself what exactly I was hoping to accomplish by participating in this challenge. It’s more than writing every day because I already do that, but I know I have lots of room to grow as a writer. So is there something specific I want to work on?

As I reread my last few posts, I noticed that I begin my slices in very predictable ways. I either dive right in with “I…” or by telling when something happened: “Yesterday…” or “Last week…” You get the idea.

I thought about one of the most famous opening lines in children’s literature: “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.” We are immediately pulled into the story and are just as curious as Fern about that ax. E.B White deftly weaves in other important details of time and setting into this sentence, and we do notice them. But it’s that ax that has our attention.

Glancing through a random issue of the New Yorker, I noticed many articles began by establishing the time or the setting. This opening line, though, from “Forced Out” by Matthew Desmond, got my attention: “Arleen Beale’s latest eviction began with a snowball fight.” Aren’t you curious? You can read about it here

In The Revision Toolbox: Teaching Techniques that Work (2nd edition, Heinemann, 2014), Georgia Heard writes that “The lead or introduction to a piece of writing is the ‘front door.’ You want your guests or readers to feel compelled to stay and linger.” Ted Kooser tells readers of The Poetry Home Repair Manual (University of Nebraska Press, 2005) that “the titles and the first few lines of your poem represent the hand you extend in friendship toward your reader.” I love this idea. Both Heard and Kooser go on to share specific techniques for compelling, friendly openings.

Over the next few days I’ll be playing with different types of openings, hoping to invite you into a piece of writing that you’ll want to linger over. But it’s unlikely that they will have anything to do with an ax.

Brondum's Annex by Anna Ancher
Brondum’s Annex by Anna Ancher

Thank you to StaceyTaraDanaBetsyAnnaBeth, Kathleen, and Deb for this space for teachers and others to share their stories each Tuesday throughout the year and every day during the month of March. Be sure to visit Two Writing Teachers to read more Slice of Life posts.

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9 thoughts on “Slice of Life: In the Beginning…

  1. I too struggle with the “purpose” behind regular writing – well, publishing it at least. Your goal sounds excellent – and I look forward to reading your leads (and the rest!)

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  2. I have been working up a lesson on openers for my reading students, and yet foolishly hadn’t thought of how to apply it to my own work! Now I will be thinking about openings as a writer, and sharing my thinking with my students as their teacher!

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  3. I quote that opening line to Charlotte’s Web often when I talk about leads with my students. Georgia Heard and Ted Kooser occupy my library as well. Time to pull them out of hiding for some inspiration.

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  4. Really enjoyed this piece, Catherine. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I hoped to get from this challenge too. As you say, it’s more than simply writing or publishing every day–though I had gotten out of the habit and needed an extra push to get back. I was thinking today about endings and how I find them for slices–for any writing, really, as they’re the hardest part of any piece for me. I’m not sure I ever think much about beginnings, and now I’m really curious about how I begin my slices! I’m looking forward to learning from your experiments over the next few days! (I had 3 failed slices today too. I’m saving them all for a slice later in the month that I’m going to call “Abandoned Slices”!!)

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