Some writers feel comfortable and can be productive following the sage advice of the King in Alice in Wonderland to the White Rabbit: “Begin at the beginning . . . and go on till you come to the end.” Other writers, though, wail internally or aloud, “But I don’t know where/how to begin!” Trying to follow that command only increases their angst and intensifies creative paralysis.
When I coach doctoral candidates as they begin writing, I often advise them not to start at the beginning, that is, with Chapter 1. They sometimes think I’m nuts, but, a heretic in the King’s court, I’ve got sound reasons. In the first chapter of a dissertation or introduction in an article, the writer must present a thorough and concise overview of the problem investigated or reported on. This presentation requires (a) great familiarity with the breadth of the topic and (b) greater familiarity with previous studies of the subject.