Writing muffin tops

Gérard Mclean
Oct 12, 2018 · 2 min read

I have a friend who writes the most brilliant ledes; they are poignant, highly descriptive, plunges the reader headlong emotionally deep into the narrative, hits a plot point so skillfully that the reader has no choice but to continue reading. The problem is, they are her second or third paragraph.

My advice to her is, “Whack off the first paragraph and start with your second.” She groans because it means she will have to throw away the first paragraph or two, the ones she most likely agonized over hours, days, weeks as the start of her story. Starting a story is almost the hardest part of telling it.

She might believe it is easy for me to tell her, but she would be wrong. I agonize over the feedback as I too, agonize over how to start telling my own stories. Any writer will tell you, the starting is the hard part. The lede for this story you are now reading took me months to finally craft.

I’ve noticed in some of her more recent stories, she is writing her lede first, the lede that was once the second or third paragraph. It’s hard to throw away bits you wrote—I get that—but they do not work as well for her. She need to write the way she writes, even if she knows she is writing dead words walking.

I’m a metaphor guy. I need a metaphor for almost every bit of “workshopping” feedback I give to other writers. I’ve been searching for a metaphor for the process of starting with the second paragraph.

Here is what I landed on:

You can’t “start” with your second paragraph; you must first write the one you will start with, wrestle with it and eventually throw away. Here is why.

Muffin tops. A lot of people eat just the muffin top and throw the stump away. So, what do the “geniuses” of capitalism do? They bake just muffin tops and try to sell them. People don’t buy just muffin tops and eventually bakeries quit making them and go back to baking full muffins. (Some bakeries are still hanging on and selling just the tops…. but those are not muffin tops; they are muffin mounds… they taste differently than genuine muffin tops.)

You have to bake the whole muffin to get a really good muffin top — even as you throw away the stump — because the muffin top is a product of the whole muffin. To a capitalist, this is waste. To his customer, it is a necessary by-product that produces the quality of the product he consumes.

It’s the same with writing. To get to that super tight in medias res lede, she can’t start there. She must start at the chronological beginning of the narrative — then throw it away, like a muffin stump.

Monkey with a loaded typewriter

Essays from life, mostly true.

Monkey with a loaded typewriter

Essays from life, mostly true. Buy the book and get all the essays in one place, no batteries required. Unless you buy it on Kindle, then you’re on your own. Sorry. http://amzn.to/1xxlLZB

Gérard Mclean

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Picking my brain will cost you a fortune. No discounts. Author; Monkey with a Loaded Typewriter http://amzn.to/1xxlLZB @rivershark @gerardmclean everywhere.

Monkey with a loaded typewriter

Essays from life, mostly true. Buy the book and get all the essays in one place, no batteries required. Unless you buy it on Kindle, then you’re on your own. Sorry. http://amzn.to/1xxlLZB