Here are some excerpts from the introductory sections of the very first drafts of some book chapters:
[BLAH, BLAH, BLAHBITTY BLAH]
[Introductory blather goes here]
Blah, blah, stuff, blather.
There’s a good reason for this, based on the basics of scientific writing, namely that the Introduction should give the reader a rough guide to the complete work– exactly what you’re going to say, before you go on and say it. In order to do a good job with the Introduction, you need to have a very solid idea of the shape of the finished product, and exactly what you need to mention up front for everything to hold together.
Which is why the Introduction is pretty much the last section I write. If you try to write it first, you’re setting yourself up for a miserable slog, because you don’t know just what you need to say in that section, and so you end up typing and retyping the same vague blather over and over, or frittering away hours on researching stuff that you may or may not actually need, because you don’t know yet whether it will be relevant to the whole thing.
That’s my advice for anyone setting out to write non-fiction, whether it’s a term paper, a research article for a journal, a grant application (OK, that might be stretching the term “non-fiction” a bit…), or a pop-science book: Write the Introduction last.
I know this. And so why is it, exactly, that every time I start something new, I find myself trying to start at the beginning and write straight through to the end?
Monday and Tuesday, starting from the beginning: 2,600 words, total. Friday, skipping the Introduction and starting on the middle bits: 2,600 words in two hours, and almost all of them are better words than the words I laboriously dragged out on Monday and Tuesday.