Writing the first sentence of a book

Eighteen months ago I shif­ted my fo­cus to cou­gars, the sub­ject of my next book. After a peri­od of in­tense re­search, I began or­gan­iz­ing all the in­form­a­tion I’d gathered.

It was an im­mense job that in­volved sort­ing through a Bankers Box full of files and an equally massive amount of in­form­a­tion saved on my hard drive. And then one day it was done.

What now?” I wondered. Then it hit me: it was time to start writ­ing the book.

But how? I knew what I wanted to say but what about that all im­port­ant first sen­tence? I searched my mind. All I found was an im­age of the Sahara desert, a totally empty land­scape stretch­ing into in­fin­ity. Just like the blank screen on my computer.

A knot of pan­ic formed in my chest. Breaking the house­hold rule of not in­ter­rupt­ing each oth­er when we’re writ­ing, I rushed into Rick’s of­fice. “It’s time to start writ­ing my book and I don’t know what to do,” I announced. 

It hap­pens to me every time I write an art­icle,” he replied then con­tin­ued tap­ping away on his keyboard.

I trudged back up­stairs and shuffled some pa­pers around on my desk. I called my mom. I made a cup of tea. I changed the wa­ter in the dog’s bowl. And then I laughed. I was em­ploy­ing the old­est writ­ing trick in the world – procrastination.

My brain is sharpest in the morn­ing and by then it was late af­ter­noon so I let my­self off the hook for the day. The next was filled with er­rands down­town but the day after that…I had to start the book.

I wondered how I’d ever found the elu­sive first sen­tences of my oth­er books. To be per­fectly hon­est, at that mo­ment, I had no idea. The whole concept of writ­ing the first sen­tence of a book seemed daunt­ing, per­haps impossible.

People new to the craft of writ­ing of­ten ask me for ad­vice. So I asked my­self what I’d tell them about start­ing a book. At least that was a ques­tion I could an­swer. “Just jump in and do it,” I’d say. “Don’t worry about it too much, you can al­ways change it later. Something will come to you eventually.”

And the next morn­ing, while I was walk­ing the dog, it did.

Heavily fall­ing snow covered our boot prints al­most as soon as we made them. The fat white flakes, the forest around us and the ar­rival of twi­light meant vis­ib­il­ity was fad­ing fast. And right in front of us, filling with snow as we stared, were the large foot­prints of a cougar….

It might not be per­fect and would prob­ably change over time. But, at last, I had a way in. I could start the book.