Here’s An Opening Line That Works Every Time.

Doug Delia

Do I have your attention? I keep a journal dedicated to “first lines.“ It’s an easy and fun exercise that helps me avoid writer’s block. A blank white page can be intimidating and a good first line helps stimulate the creative process. A first line should leave your reader wanting, wanting more! In one line you have the opportunity to provide the reader with enough information to decide if this story is for them and unlike a novel if you don’t like the story there is another, perhaps more interesting poem, on the next page.

Here are some examples from my work:

Alice and Bernie have a curious

and unusual fascination with road kill.

from “Road Kill Detectives”

In 12 lines you have told your reader that the story is about two people Alice and Bernie, and it has something curious to do with road kill. Hopefully, you will be compelled to read more, but if you have a strong aversion to road kill you may want to quit the story here.

Another technique is to open with a question.

What if you had sight for just one hour of each day?

            from “Crossing Midnight”

appearing in Wayfarer Journal

This line starts the reader thinking about their response and to compare their preference to the authors. It is an interesting question, because even though the subject of this poem is non-sighted for 23 hours each day, it is a poem about gratitude.

Do you have a first line you would like to share? It can be from your work or someone else’s.

Writer’s Block


This winter, I attended a writers workshop and one of the breakout sessions was titled: “How to Overcome Writers’ Block.” The facilitator remarked that some mornings she had to “trick herself” into getting started. I’m fortunate enough never to have had that problem.
The Irish poet Yates felt that all his poems were channeled and he was only a facilitator. I often feel that way, and sometimes when I read a poem I’ve previous written I can’t remember the inspiration or even the actual writing of the piece.
American poet Jane Hirshfield remarked that she often has no idea where her ideas or words came from. I think if your work is divinely inspired it would be impossible to ever have writers’ block. Still, I will offer some practical advice:

1. I always carry a notebook and write down words, phrases, or ideas as they come to me.
2. I will often return to a piece I don’t feel is complete, or could use more attention.
3. I write haiku, or mini-poems (one sentence poems).
4. I read great poets, or become engaged in the art of others.
5. I go for a run or walk. As a kinesthetic learner, movement often triggers thoughts. I actually did write my chapbook “26point2 poems on the run.
Both Truman Capote and Mark Twain wrote best lying down.
6. I practice patience and seek solitude – a quiet mind is a blank canvas.