When writing a piece of prose or editorial that’s meant to have some kind of impact on the reader – whether that’s business writing or creative writing – I find the piece is more effective when I define what I want to say first, and then work out how I want to say it second. In other words, I bash out my first draft, and then refine the expression and nuance along the way.
After years of being a business magazine editor, and writing a leader/opinion column each week, I discovered that the best way to give my leader shape is to write the ‘sign-off’ line – or punchline – first. That way, every point I make leads up to that final line (that hopefully will provoke some kind of response in the reader).
I attempted this technique in three chapters of my novel that I submitted to a creative writing workshop recently. The comments I received were extremely positive, and many of my co-writers thought I had created a cliffhanger at the end of each chapter that made them want to read on.
Having already written the last line means that I don’t have to agonise over and keep re-crafting the first line. The pressure comes off, as the first line knows exactly where it’s heading.