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Writing Those Darned First Paragraphs – Ask Anne

start writingHi Anne,

I’m just starting to blog and I’m finding I have a problem with introductory paragraphs. Do you have any advice about writing those important first paragraphs?

Thanks!

~Jarod Billingslea – a web designer:Twitter @JarodBillingsle

Hi Jarod,

You’re right, the first paragraph of an article or blog post is critical. It’s what ‘hooks’ the reader to reading the rest of the post, and if you don’t get it well written you lose your audience.

When I first started writing someone suggested that often the first paragraph or so could be cut from a draft because the second or third ‘graph was likely to be the real beginning of the article. I found it worked for me.

Later, when I became an editor of both magazines and newspapers I found I could often eliminate those first paragraphs in the articles that were submitted to me.  Perhaps not surprisingly I have found that the first chapter in book-length manuscripts can often be deleted and make the work stronger.

So draft away, then look and see if you haven’t got a solid or almost solid intro already written, just not quite at the start.

In my mind I always picture a bull getting ready to charge, but first he paws the dirt. I think that’s what we writers often do. We write our way into a piece  and it’s not until we get really well started that the writing gets good.

Do you have a question you’d like me to answer. Just contact me, put Q&A in the subject line and I’ll do my best.

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Amy

    I guess I was going to suggest something similar, but I just start off that way….I usually “start in the middle” and then start working from there. The “kernel” or heart of the matter of the article’s slant or point of view, usually is what comes to me in a sentence to begin with…often I can start there. Rather than write that 1st paragraph to lead me to the heart of it, I guess I mull it over, kind of talk it out to myself, until I find that “kernel”…then start writing with that. It hooks but doesn’t explain yet..then I work my way back, telling the rest of the “story.”

  • I’ve gotten to a point where I love writing that first paragraph. I look for it during interviews. A lot of times some errant comment will come out that just sums up perfectly the point of the article.

    You’re so right about that first paragraph, Anne. Many times I’ve worked on a piece only to realize my real beginning was right under what I was trying to get to in the first paragraph.

    Also, I’d suggest Jarod look for an anecdote, a quote, or a statistic that sets up the story. That often takes the pressure off.

    • Anne

      Sure, with our experience first ‘graphs are rarely a problem, and if they are we recognize it in a hurry. That’s why we call writing, among other things, a practice…

      Good ideas re stories, quotes and stats.

  • Hehe! I just love the visual image I have of that getting-ready-to-charge bull!

    • Anne

      me too… can sometimes hear him snorting and smell the field he’s in.

  • Ha, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve crossed out first paragraphs (both mine and others’), and used the second one instead. Somehow, we really get going only after that first paragraph break.

    Another useful trick is to write something really silly (Ghostwriting is when ghosts come visit your computer and type things when you’re not looking), and then segue into something more serious.

    • Anne

      I like that Jodi… something silly to kick out the cobwebs as it were. Thanks

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