When I read this quote attributed to Beatrix Potter, my first thought was that I wondered if she had the story of Peter Rabbit all planned out or did she just begin writing and let the story grow from those first 'delicious' words?
Her story begins with:
Once upon a time, there were four little Rabbits and their names were--Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail and Peter.
Can you picture Ms. Potter, pen in hand, at her desk writing these words. Did the first words of the story fill her with delight? They might have done so just because getting that opening line proves a real accomplishment. The story is often in our head but how to begin? That is something we do and redo and redo multiple times before we are satisfied with the first words.
Every writer knows that to hook the reader immediately is of great importance. We know that but we don't always do it. How many times have you read a story that has so much introductory material that you want to say out loud Get on with it!
The Peter Rabbit book continues with:
They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.
In the first two sentences, we've learned some character names and we've been given the setting. Did she set up a possiblity for readers to wonder what living in a place like that would be like? Possibly. Was it a big action scene to begin the story? Not by a longshot.
Next, Ms. Potter wrote:
'Now,my dears," said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, 'you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don't go into Mr. McGregor's garden.'
Oh-oh. We already sense possible trouble ahead for the four little bunnies. The author has us now. We want to find out if the little rabbits all obey their Mama or if they get into trouble.
Did Beatrix Potter know what the trouble would be when she started writing this beloved classic tale of disobedience and a lesson learned? Or did she start writing and let the story take her along with it?
It happens both ways. Some writers are so organized that they have outlines, story boards, character lists with traits and background story for each character and more. Others prefer to wing it. They have a glimmer of an idea, begin to write and go with wherever those early words lead. The latter way is more creative while the first method is definitely more of a sure thing, and perhaps leads to fewer rewrites.
Many writers use both approaches. They go with whatever works best for that particular story or personal essay or full-length novel. Some of these writers write books on the craft of writing and they'll elaborate on the method they use when they write. It's good to read these books. I've always been a proponent of doing so. BUT, don't think that you absolutely must adhere to the way a celebrated author like John Grisham, Stephen King or Sue Grafton writes.
The longer you write, the more methods you use, the better you'll become at finding the way that works best for YOU. Just as no two people are alike, writers are all different. They find various plans for their own writing style. An approach you take isn't necessarily wrong, it's different from many others. If it works for you, go with it.
Beatrix Potter's quote started my thoughts on this post and as I wrote, I let the topic move on into other things as well. It works for me. If that is the way you write, too, it's fine. If you say you could never write that way, that's perfectly alright, too. Don't try to copy other writers. Be true to yourself and do it your way.
Beatrix Potter (1866-1943)