Thursday, September 2, 2021

Why Starting Can Be Hard for Writers

by Lynn H. Blackburn @LynnHBlackburn

Starting is hard—in writing and in other places. 

Let me explain. 

I’ve been a knitter for years, but recently I learned how to crochet. So for the past few months I’ve spent more time with a crochet hook than my knitting needles. But few nights ago, I sat down with my knitting needles to start a small project. 

It did not go well. 

Now, if you aren’t a knitter, you may not realize this, but before you can knit a project, you have to “cast on” the stitches. This is the part where you get the yarn on the needle. It’s only after the stitches are on the needle that you really begin to knit. 

But I couldn’t remember how to do it! I wrapped the yarn around my fingers, moved the needles around the yarn, even closed my eyes hoping that muscle memory would kick in and I would open them and discover that I’d succeeded in casting on a few stitches. 

Yeah. That didn’t work. 

I panicked a little. What was happening? Had I forgotten how to knit? How could that be? I’m a knitter!

After several failed attempts I broke down and pulled up a video that showed the cast-on I was attempting. A few tries after that, it clicked in my brain, and I successfully cast on the stitches so I could begin my project. Once that was done, I dove into my pattern and whipped up ten rows without a mistake. 

It turned out that I hadn’t forgotten how to knit. 

I had forgotten how to start. 

Now, I hear you. You’re whispering to your screen right about now. “Lynn, sweetie, this is a writing website. Not a knitting website.”

Yeah, yeah. I know. But I had a little bit of a writing epiphany while I was knitting. 

Because this isn’t the first time I’ve stared at my hands at the start of a new project and been completely baffled as to how to begin. Except in those cases, my hands were on my keyboard, and the new project was a blinking cursor on a blank page.

Every writer is different, so what I’m about to share may not apply to you, but I’m the kind of writer who absolutely hates starting a story. I can spend weeks on the first few scenes. I start. Stop. Type. Delete. Brainstorm. Try again. Delete more. 

This is the point where I typically have a bit of a writer meltdown. My thoughts spiral into a vortex of drama and fear.

I’ve forgotten how to write!
How is it possible that I have successfully completed novels in the past?
Clearly, I’m a hack. 
This is a disaster. 
I have no idea how to do this.

For the record: I’m not being hyperbolic. You can ask my friends. I freak out at the beginning of every novel. It’s ridiculous. But here’s where my epiphany comes in. 

I’ve realized that when I freeze at the beginning of the story, it isn’t because I’ve forgotten how to write. It’s because I’ve forgotten how to start. And in a weird way, I find that very comforting. 

I’ve written seven books. These books have all landed in the 90K word range. They have taken months and months to write. I’ve had lots of practice with writing. 

But I haven’t had a lot of practice with starting a new story. I’ve only done it seven times. Okay, ten times if you count the novellas and the novel still in the drawer. The point remains. 

Starting a story is its own unique process in the life of your manuscript. And it’s okay if you stumble at the beginning. In fact, you can write the worst beginning in the history of first chapters and guess what? 


Why? Because, unlike with knitting (where that cast on is hard to fix later), your first sentence, scene, or chapter of your manuscript can change as many times as you need it to. You may even discover, as many, many authors (myself included) have, that you don’t need that first chapter and it may wind up as a deleted scene. 

Sadly, there’s no magic video you can watch that will fix the beginning of your story in under 60 seconds. 

There is, however, a longer, more arduous fix. It can be painful, but it works. 

It has two parts.

1. You must keep putting down words that you may not keep.

This is particularly difficult for those of us who have a smidge of perfectionism (okay, my friends just snorted their coffee because my perfectionism game is strong). It hurts me at a deep level to cut pages and pages of writing. Or to start over. Or to realize that the first chapter has to go. But that’s the first step and it isn’t optional.

2. You must keep going until you reach the end.

A lot of writers never get past the beginning. They have written, rewritten, revised, edited, critiqued, and generally lived inside the first chapter or two of their story and never made it past that because they can’t get it quite right. Y’all. You have to keep going. Will you get to Chapter 15 and realize you’re going to have to make changes to Chapter 1? Probably. Keep going anyway. Write all the way to the end. Again, this step? Not optional.

When we stagnate in the first few chapters, we never get the joy of swimming in the wide-open spaces of the middle, and we miss out on the thrill of the breathtaking conclusion.

Starting is hard. But when you get to the end, you’ll be so glad you did. 

Grace and peace,


Lynn H. Blackburn loves writing romantic suspense because her childhood fantasy was to become a spy, but her grown-up reality is that she's a huge chicken and would have been caught on her first mission. She prefers to live vicariously through her characters and loves putting them into all kinds of terrifying situations while she's sitting at home safe and sound in her pajamas! 

Lynn’s titles have won the Carol Award, the Selah Award, and the Faith, Hope, and Love Reader’s Choice Award. Her newest series kicks off in March 2021 with Unknown Threat, Book 1 in the Defend and Protect series. 

She is a frequent conference speaker and has taught writers all over the country. Lynn lives in South Carolina with her true love and their three children. You can follow her real life happily ever after by signing up for her newsletter at LYNNHBLACKBURN.COM and @LynnHBlackburn on BOOKBUBFACEBOOKTWITTERPINTEREST, and INSTAGRAM.


  1. I get a lot of great blog ideas from knitting, and I'm working on a novel centering around a yarn shop. I have momentarily forgotten how to do techniques on many occasions. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I don't knit, but that is a great analogy! Thanks for sharing!

  3. This is great wisdom. I can see the analogy from the knitting and starting. I crochet but haven't done it for years. When I picked up a crochet hook again, I had to watch a video on how to start. Now I know why starting a writing project can be difficult.