“I remember [Donald Barthelme] urging me during one conference to consider writing a novel—probably because at the time I mainly wrote prose poems that barely extended into the territory of the short story, and Don always liked to mix things up a bit. The very idea, though, alarmed me. I couldn’t imagine ever writing any single thing that continued into hundreds of pages, and my squeaky timid protest to Don’s suggestion was, “I wouldn’t know where to begin.”
His response surprised me. “Whenever I begin a novel,” he said, “the beginning never stays at the beginning. It ends up in the middle, or near the end. It never stays put where I started.“
I’d always assumed that one began a novel by starting on page one and slogging through to the last sentence, so this revelation served as some relief to me, and made the task of writing a novel appear a little more approachable. Still, I don’t think I fully understood him until I began, years later, to work on my first novel, and found myself putting together its different sections like pieces of a puzzle that had as yet no defined borders, while trying to discover and answer my own secret twenty questions.
Source: Philip Graham, “Any Novel’s Negative Twenty Questions”