On Beginnings, First Lines, and Why I No Longer Set Annual Goals from Jody Feldman

In the beginning ...
Once upon a time ...
It all started when ...

Each phrase holds a bit of excitement. A rush. A promise.

I have probably written hundreds of first lines. Maybe even thousands if you count the ones I’ve never put down in black and white. At least 77.4% were excellent, some better than any first lines I’ve ended up using. The thing is, some of these killer starts couldn’t deliver what they’d promised.

I thought they could. But any writer will tell you that stories and characters develop minds of their own. They’ll run away from you. Hide. Take twists and turns. Grow in some places. Shrink in others.

Sort of like life.
There were many years when I started each January with my own first lines in the form of annual writing goals. Halfway through the year, more often than not, I was nowhere on the right track. It didn’t matter that I had gone astray because my characters weren’t developed enough or that certain scenes weren’t as strong as possible. It didn’t dawn on me that I could and should take a breath, attend to learning my craft better, then allow output to follow.

After all, I was going to workshops. I was reading how-to articles. But with those self-imposed deadlines staring me in the face, I rushed through the learning process. And those goals I set for myself? Maybe I was meeting them, but not with the implied promise of quality work.

And so I chucked those first-of-the-year lines in favor of one over-riding goal:
To work on story and craft continually.

Even with such a simple goal, I probably expect more of myself. I know I have accomplished more. I have woven that goal throughout my writing life so that it doesn’t only provide a start, a rush, a promise, but it also delivers on a satisfying finish. Every time.


  1. Thanks Jody,
    This is so true. The only worthwhile writing goal is to sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write. The good will rise to the surface eventually. All those great first lines? Maybe one day there'll be a story in them.

    1. I also meant to include, Darlene, is that this is what work for me as of right now. I used to need those goals; I know many people who do; maybe someday I'll go back to them. As for the first lines ... who knows :)

  2. Replies
    1. Though just this minute I thought of another goal I can live with ... re-rail. As in such-and-such happened today, and I got all derailed, but no worries. I will take a breath and re-rail.

  3. Hi, Jody,
    Thanks for this post. I would love to know more about the ways you wove this goal into your life, especially the part about "delivering a satisfying finish". Intrigued.


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