There’s a magic moment when good lede almost writes itself.
During the course of a great interview, a source will say something amazing, totally quotable and emotionally evocative and … ping! The story begins to unfold. Perhaps the lede comes during a telling exchange between the source and someone he is interacting with. Perhaps that opening sentence comes when you notice something the source does that aligns perfectly with the theme or message of the piece. These moments are amazing for writers because they make starting the story easy. And often, starting the story is the hardest part of writing the whole darn thing.
But what if that moment doesn’t happen?
What if you sit down to write and the beginning of the story just isn’t revealing itself? I’ve been there, and I can tell you there’s no real magic way out of this situation.
In my experience, the only thing to do is to just sit down and start typing.
Even if it’s gibberish, begin somewhere. Start, maybe, by writing as if you were talking to a friend, and he or she has asked you, “What is this story about?” Stay informal and simply answer the question. Write as if you were chatting, not as if you were beginning a formulaic story. If that doesn’t work, ask yourself this question: “What’s the most interesting thing that occurred in the interview?” Or, “How does the source feel about his or her situation (in life, in work, at home … whatever the story touches on) right now?” Even if you have to turn the main events of your story into choppy sentences stating just the facts to begin, do that.
Do whatever it takes to get something, anything, down.
The idea is to start your fingers moving while, at the same time, wrestling with your story mentally in new ways, until something substantial, rhythmic and, well … right for the piece comes out. Doing this exercise helps you clear the clutter in your brain, gradually whittling the words down until you’re left with what matters most.
Writing is often like exercising: Our minds will try to override our bodies with all kinds of noisy messages about why we can’t do the thing. And the only way to break through the noise is to get up (in the case of exercising) or sit down (in the case of writing) and start something. View writing as an imperfect process and remember: We rarely end up with what we begin with. The point is to start, gather momentum, push through and then keep going.