Recent struggle: begin with lyricism (My father believes there is a little of God in any city beside the water--river, lakes, oceans, it's no matter.), or begin with situation (Three days after my twenty-eighth birthday, my wife kicked me out of the house for NEARLY having an affair.).
Can't decide honestly.
Even more vexing is the notion that it might not matter, and perhaps most vexing of all is that I know it doesn't matter, but I can't seem to stop caring about it.
Welcome to the life of a writer.
Maybe these concerns do matter on the level that a writer must engage his material to the nth degree, even if the story itself presents only the top layers of thought and idea. Put another way, a documentarian might shoot 100 hours of film to capture the three minutes he needs to tell the story at hand.
It's not enough to know your story. It's far more important to learn how to listen to your characters and tell the story the way it should be told. My problem stems from a desire to control my characters. I create them and then I start bossing them around. They become recalcitrant teenagers, shutting down like parent vs kid on opposing couches when really if I would let them speak, let them breathe, their story might come to me. I might simply have to transcribe at that point. This is so much more difficult than it sounds.
Some writers write chronologically. Begin chapter one, GO. Other writers I know skip around, working on chapters they feel like working on that day. Don't want to write the scene where Beth tells her daughter to get the hell out of the house? Well, then maybe write the chapter where Kathryn puts a butcher knife to her husband's throat or the scene where Sam comes back to Charleston to face his father.
John Irving has a new novel coming out this fall, which pleases me to no end. This is a man whose sensibilities ride more along a nineteenth century track, and while this would seem a hopelessly impossible idea to pull off in today's age of immediate gratification (yes, maybe we should start with the "almost-affair" and save the philosophical waxing for later), he remains a Dickens for our times, a master purveyor of the winding story that delivers big in the end. In this interview for the New York Times, he discusses the importance of final lines and how he constructs a novel backwards. God, I love this man.