Starting out written material was always difficult. Now it's much more so since we recognize that you must capture the readers' attention, pronto. In Part 2 of Be Your Own Ghostwriter, which you can review here, I promised you we would attack this.
Well, the dirty little secret of seasoned professional ghostwriters is that we don't usually start out with the start. There are at least two reasons for that.
One is that the angst can be so high about making the start effective (that is, capturing attention) that it's impossible to do that until there is a build up of confidence. That feeling of being on top of things comes as the piece is progressing. Only after that is the start added on. Yes, ghostwriters who do this for a living suffer too. Not only you.
Secondly, whatever is written is organic. As new paragraphs are added and others delected, the piece can change a lot or a little. That means that the original start may no longer fit. So, why labor over it. After the article or whatever is done, then play with the start.
In terms of how to start, here are some fundamentals.
Know your audience. The primary audience for Abovethelaw.com, for example, are law students and young lawyers. Therefore, a post about a layoff in the industry has to start off with compassion for those getting the ax. No, it can't start off with praise for the law firm doing the layoffs since it will increase its profitablity.
Tone is everything. A white paper by a startup in tech could begin boastful and perhaps self-referential. That might get it the funding it needs. On the other hand, a white paper by an established brandname tech company like IBM would start out focusing on how useful this is to the readers. That is, the strategy of serving a public purpose in sharing information.
Take calculated risks. Being boring is the unforgiveable sin against the reader. Therefore, even the most buttoned-down writer has to break out of that comfort zone. It is a good idea to ask a more in-tune colleague how to start the piece in a way to grab attention immediately. Even professional ghostwriters run the start by trusted communicators to find out, "Does this work?"
Be ready to revise. More starts wind up on the cutting room floor than in published material. Sometimes the reason isn't that the beginning is weak. It could be that there has been a new development or topical event which mandates a different beginning. For instance, if Facebook just announced an acquisition related to the content of your white paper, you might need to put that in the first paragraph.
Study other models. If you are struggling with how to start out your company's annual report, read those which are praised in the financial media. Figure out why Warren Buffett begins the way he does.
In Part 4, we will look at how to organize the content.