Starting Points

Light of the World link

I AM NOT FAMILIAR with Elizabeth Alexander’s writing, but after reading a joint interview last week involving her and Sheryl Sandberg, I requested her book ““The Light of the World” from the library. (I already had a request in for Sandberg’s book).

It’s here now. I planned to wait until next Monday’s trip to OSU to start it, but I couldn’t resist just opening to the first page. After a paragraph, I knew I was reading the whole chapter. By the end of the chapter, I wanted to cancel the day’s activities and read the whole book straight through without stopping. I can’t remember the last time I felt that way about a book.

I didn’t want to stop and the only reason I have stopped is because if I keep reading and don’t stop to capture a quote or the thoughts that stirred, it’ll be like wolfing down Thanksgiving dinner and not being able to recall the various side dishes.

One must allow time for savoring!

This isn’t a book review, by the way. I just want to say something about something. 🙂 In the first chapter, which is short (only 3 pages), the author isn’t quite sure where to begin.  I keep seeing the words “the story begins.”

The story seems to begin with catastrophe…
It begins on a beautiful April morning…
Or it begins when the wife says goodbye…
Or it begins as he packs a tote bag….
Perhaps the story begins with the 3 dozen lottery tickets…
Or it begins with a surprise…
Or it began when I met him…

and finally
The story began in….

EIGHT attempts in 3 pages to pinpoint the starting place. I loved this because finding the starting point is not an exact science. I wrestle something terrible with it and I like that Elizabeth Alexander put it all right out there on paper.

When I first began writing for publication, I heard a seasoned magazine editor say, “For a lot of writers, the beginning of the story is several paragraphs or pages in. Everything that comes before it is just the writer clearing his/her throat.” His words made it easier for me to cut a lot of my throat-clearing paragraphs, usually unnecessary back story. I still struggle with it, though.

There was one story in particular that I wrestled with for a long time. It was a true story, one I often told when speaking, but had never written down. I told it differently every time, always starting in a different place, depending on who I was telling it to and why. Then along came someone who really needed and deserved to know it. I sat down and sent it off to her in a letter. When I went back and reread it, I saw I’d started in exactly the right place. There it was. All I’d needed was the right reader in mind instead of trying to tailor it to the entire world.

Ok, I’m rambling now.

Sheryl Sandberg and Elizabeth Alexander: On Love Loss and What Comes Next


About Marilyn

Reading, thinking, listening, writing and talking about faith, creativity, ESL for refugees, grief and finding the story in a story. Student of Spanish. Foe of procrastination. Cheez-it fan. People person with hermit tendencies or vice-versa. Thank you so much for reading.
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4 Responses to Starting Points

  1. pastordt says:

    No, you are not rambling. At all. That is exactly the answer. Thanks so much, Marilyn.


  2. Belinda says:

    So glad you stopped to share these thoughts and share the gift of the wonderful book you’re enjoying! Pondering now. 🙂


  3. It makes me happy that you have found a starting place. Even more so that Elizabeth Alexander showed you the way.


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