Fred Flintstone dives into his car and spins his pins—the car lurches back—and only then is he on his Ya Ba Da Ba Doo way. While he is in his car revving up his engine—himself—he’s getting nowhere. And before he can move forward, he must recoil, like a cat, to get the purchase he needs to catapult forward.
This is also true of any piece of writing in process. We Ha Ya Cato (see “Chew Upon This) into the screen or page that is the vehicle for our thoughts. Then we spin our pins—vroom vroom from our everyday banal lives into the promise and adventure of writing. We recoil from the task ahead, entertain doubts, try this and that. Then the magic happens—we are anchored in some image or new idea—and we launch into our journey of discovery.
Too often, though—all that spinning of the proverbial wheels—is left in. And that’s sad, because we can lose our readers. At best, our ideas will be diluted. To use another metaphor, builders and window washers erect scaffolding to do their work. They remove that scaffolding before they consider the work. So much of an expected thing this is, that, as artists do, the architects of the Centre George Pompidou in Paris designed a building to celebrate scaffolding:
In my writing workshops, one of the first questions we ask of a draft is “Where does it start?” What we are looking for is that moment when the piece of writing catapults. Let’s look at some examples:
The tragedy of Timon of Athens has many of the human conditions
we find in our every day lives. Things like greed, generosity, vengeance,
loyalty, betrayal are some of the features and emotions found in this
This paper continues in this vein, summarizing, listing, spinning a variety of ideas around for 2-1/2 pages and then we read this:
In Timon of Athens, Timon the profligate and Flavius the parsimonious
seem to be opposed personalities—one giving too much and the other holding back.
But, on delving more deeply into the text, we can see they are the same.
That’s where the paper starts—it has landed the helicopter (see Landing the Helicopter) and offered the reader a clear focus. We know that from hereon in, we will learn something new and unexpected.
Here’s a poem addressed to my husband. Where does it start?
My father was a difficult man.
He was a homophobic, racist anti-Semite.
He even denied that the Holocaust happened.
He cared more for his ideas, that he did for me.
My father wouldn’t lead me down the aisle—
you are Jew, and hadn’t asked him—
clinking cognac glasses for my hand…
As you write, whether it be poems, essays, memoirs, plays, or any other form, identify that moment when the piece leaps forward. And then be very brave—cross out that first Flintstoning line, paragraph, or ten pages. Otherwise, in this day of Instagram and Tweets, you will lose your readers—and if it’s a teacher, your hope for a promising grade.
More importantly, don’t clutter your mind—don’t blur your ideas with mere scaffolding and revving up. Starting your work where it starts will inspire you to write in greater depth and length.
And when you read, don’t tolerate Flintstoning, either—scan down the page and look for that moment of take-off. Then read from there. And if it doesn’t come, then the writer has not finished her/his process. In another post, we will consider the question of “Where does it end?”
Offer us an example of your own Flintstoning and where your piece actually started.