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Can You Start Your Book in the Middle?

In my book writing classes (and with private clients), I have authors start with several clarifying exercises followed by developing an an outline.

It can be tempting to just start writing, but you are likely to end up with lots of interesting stuff that doesn’t quite work as a book. I’ve seen many people do this (and then they come to me to see if I can salvage it) and I’ve done it myself. More than once.

But, okay, let’s say you get clear on your goals and vision, your audience and their needs and desires, your tone and features. Let’s say you have a rough outline. But you don’t feel like writing chapter 1.

Now, let’ say this is a how-to book. I have a very clear system for writing chapter 1 and I think it’s valuable to start here, because in chapter 1, you put yourself in your readers’ shoes and answer the questions they’re asking themselves so they can decide whether to buy (or read) your book.

If you can’t put yourself in your readers’ shoes, you shouldn’t be writing the book.

But let’s say you feel stuck in the beginning and you feel super excited about chapter 7—the chapter that reveals the most amazing secret for inner peace that no one has ever discovered—except you. Yes, permission granted to start in the middle.

Go where your passion is. Just remember, write an outline first, even if it’s rough. That way, you can know how the chapter relates to the rest of the book—and know that the chapter will likely have a home in the book, and know that, in fact, there is a book here.

In fact, sometimes, you can’t write chapter 1 because you just don’t have that opening story. Stacy Corrigan shared in book writing class that she just didn’t know how to start, so she started in the middle. Even well into class, she didn’t have a beginning. Then, the story happened. And she said, “This is how I start the book.”

Maybe you’re just waiting for your opening story to happen—and it hasn’t, yet. Trust that instinct to wait. But maybe you can put a placeholder for “Opening anecdote that illustrates x, y, z” and write the rest of that first chapter, intending to be open to the story’s unfolding.

Can You Start Your Book in the Middle?

The answer: It depends on whether you have a well outlined plan for the book.  If you have a solid idea of how to organize the book and just want to start with a different chapter, I’d say, “Go for it.”  But don’t start writing without a plan or you could end up with a series of disjointed essays that don’t serve your reader—or make a book.

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

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