What’s the best way to begin writing a book?

“Don’t make the mistake most writers make,” the Muse told me. “Don’t start at the beginning.”

The Muse knew I was in trouble, which was the reason he showed up at the crack of dawn.

The Muse didn’t come to help.

Or inspire.

The Muse came to snicker.

He likes to see me suffer.

“You can’t write with emotion unless you suffer,” he said.

He’s probably right.

I hate it when the Muse is right.

Mostly he likes to show off.

“What’s your problem this time?” he asked.

“I’m starting a new book.”

“Fiction or nonfiction?”


“Have you done the research?” The Muse sat down in the corner where he could watch the birds come to the feeder.

“I have piles of it.”

“Do you know all of the facts?”

“Probably not.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

“Why not?”

“Writers never do.” The Muse shrugged. “They just need enough facts to fill up the first three hundred pages.”

“I have enough.”

“So why are you sitting there staring out the window?”

“I have four different ways to start the book.”

“Which one is best?” he asked.

“That’s my problem,” I said. “I don’t know.”

The Muse stood up and headed for the door.

“The solution’s simple,” he said.

“I’d like to hear it,” I said.

“Don’t make the mistakes most writers do.”

“What’s that?”

“Don’t start at the beginning.”

The door opened.

The morning was wet with rain.

The Muse looked around and smiled.

He was smug.

“Every story has a climactic moment,” the Muse said.

I nodded.

“It’s that moment when you hit the reader right between the eyes. Make him sit up and hold his breath. It’s that moment when you have both hands wrapped around his neck. He can’t wait to turn the page to see how it all turns out.”

I nodded again.

“You know exactly when the moment happens.”

“I do.”

“Start your book five minutes earlier.” The Muse shrugged as he stepped out into the early morning mist. “Then go back and tell your story.”

“What good is that?”

The Muse grinned.

“You’ll have your readers on pins and needles for the next three hundred pages. You’ve set them up. Now make them wait to see what happens.”

I sat down and wrote the opening paragraph for Secrets of the Dead:

EVEN THE LATE October sky wore black to her funeral. Ambrose Lincoln forced himself to look again into the face of his wife. So young. So pale. So soft. So dead. But who was she? The face of his wife was no more familiar than a face in a second-hand magazine.

The Muse leaned over my shoulder and read the words.

“That ought to do it,” he said.

He waved at the birds and was gone.

Please click HERE to find Secrets of the Dead on Amazon.

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