Reading & Writing

Writing Exercise: The Opening Line

Go to your bookshelf. Pick a book–make it a famous one. Me, I’m looking at On the Road by Jack Kerouac. Open that sucker and write down the first line. Mine is:

I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.

Now put the book away. Don’t look at it again. Even if you picked A Tale of Two Cities or Pride and Prejudice and are looking at one of literature’s most iconic lines, now you’re going to make it your own. Start writing. Even if it feels awful and stupid, you’re going to write for five minutes. Set a timer. Start now.

(Here’s mine. I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a writing exercise, for Pete’s sake!)

I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I was working at the hotel on the hill and he would come in sometimes to sit at the bar, eating peanuts and listening to the Muzak. He liked gin and tonics, I think. He ordered them, anyway. I don’t recall seeing him drink. But he would eat the peanuts and pay for his gin and sit there until closing. I was working the desk but I’d come into the bar when it was slow. The bartender was an okay guy. It was all men there at night, which seemed strange to me, because in the morning it was all women: the day manager, the breakfast crew, the maids. We had no male maids on staff. It seemed wrong somehow. But that wasn’t the kind of thing Dean would notice. He was mostly interested in shapes.

The carpet, for example. It had this horrible blue and purple pattern that was meant to camouflage stains–blueberry and red wine, apparently. But Dean found it fascinating because it was patterned in hexagons or some nonsense like that–I always zoned out when he talked like that–and so he stared at the floor a lot. And while he was staring at the floor, he noticed something glinting under a barstool. An earring: Danielle’s earring. He called out, “Anybody lose a diamond?” as if the bar were crowded when it was just him and David and me. That was when I met him, because I said, “Me,” and he said, “You don’t seem the type,” and I said, “No, my wife,” and it hit me in the gut that she wasn’t my wife anymore and he must have seen that because he bought me a beer and introduced himself.


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