Make the Last Thing First

Photo by Christoph Wesi on Unsplash

Visionary Writing Techniques #012

by John Onorato

At this point, I’ve read a lot of your essays. Maybe not every single one, but close 😉

Pretty frequently, I’ve observed that the beginnings of essays tend to feel clunky and unrefined. But about halfway through, everything starts coming together.

It often feels like the writer took a little while to “get up to speed.”

Ultimately, though, they “hit their stride”, and they lead us across the finish line with them.

Sure, sometimes that introductory material is valuable. Sometimes it provides context and/or data needed to fully understand the material in the second half of the essay. Sometimes it serves as a prologue, or a ramp-up to the final paragraph or two.

And other times the last few paragraphs of an essay function very very well — as the first few paragraphs of a different essay.

Dump Your Brain Out

So I invite you to freewrite. Do a brain dump. Get all your thoughts out on paper (or on a screen, as the case may be). When you’re done, walk away. Don’t think about your essay for at least a few hours. Give your brain a chance to rest.

After a while, come back to your piece. Re-read it. And no matter what it’s like, love what you’ve written. It’s perfect just like it is. You know how I know? Because that’s what happened.

It can still be better, though. It can still be improved. That first draft?
That’s your block of marble right there. Then act like you’re Michelangelo carving David out of that massive block. Cut away anything that doesn’t serve your stated purpose or intention for the piece.

You might well find that the first few paragraphs don’t serve you any more. You might well find the last couple of paragraphs work much better.

So cut away the first paragraphs. Get rid of them. Start your (new) essay with the last couple of paragraphs you wrote for the (old) essay.

Why? Because they work better. And because you wrote them when you were on fire for the assignment.

In the first few paragraphs, you’re just getting that fire started. You’re fumbling around with kindling and matches, setting up the logs for optimum burning, making sure there’s airflow, and so on.

It’s in the latter stages of an essay that we’re actually on fire for what we’re writing. It’s only in the latter stages when everything starts coming together. That’s when the fire starts burning merrily. We no longer have to blow on it to make sure it catches. It’s caught, it’s burning, and now we’re all looking around for the S’Mores.

That’s when it all starts working together right.

In other words, once you have everything out on paper, take what’s last, and make it first.

Sure, this might change the reasoning and tone of your essay. It might make a completely different essay. But here in the Visionary Program, we’re used to change. After all, change is the only constant.

Bringing It Home

This is a technique I use myself. As I start my day as a freelance writer, I will frequently “warm up” by working on writing tasks that are relatively unimportant. I might work on emails or other correspondence, or I might write a journal entry. Just to get the creative juices flowing. Just to get in Flow.

I start on the important stuff only after I’ve lit my fire.

I do this because I’m a professional. So I know that in any given day, the first few words out my my fingers are going to not be worth much of anything. I don’t work on client projects first thing. Because client projects are important to me; they’re how I make my living, so I have to make a good showing.

Granted, you might not make your living with your words. But you’re in the Visionary program for a reason. Why not make the best showing you can?

And this is one way you can make that good showing: By putting your last words first.

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