As a reader, I pick up a book, I open it and start reading at page one. I continue reading until the story is complete at “The End,” and put the book down. Because, you know…it’s over.
As a writer, that’s poison.
I’m a linear person. I’m process-oriented. I want the instructions, step by step, from A to Z. I want to start at the beginning – a very good place to start – and go through to the end. Or to completion. Or to result. I want to go from the first step to the final step, in order, and achieve desired result.
As a writer, that’s poison.
The creative portion of our minds – or, if you will, the right-brain, or right side of our brain, which has been branded as the part from which creative and artistic aspects flow – does not work in a linear fashion. It’s more holistic. It sees things in a “big picture” sort of way, and it likes to jump around from one place to the next, without regard for process or order.
The critical portion of our minds – the left-brain, from which all reason, structure, and language originate – wants order and process. It wants things done expediently. It wants stuff to happen in the right sequence, in proper steps, and it likes instructions. It’s also results-oriented, so it wants what it wants now.
The two sides of our person collide when writers create. We need the critical voice to provide vocabulary and sentence structure, grammar and punctuation. We need the creative voice to provide the story, the idea, the characters, the setting, the imaginative portion of the writing.
But marrying these two portions is harder than it seems.
One of the things I have to learn to be able to write without an outline is to write in a non-linear way. I’m not obligated to write from “Once upon a time” straight through to “happily ever after.” I can start at the end, build a story from a single scene in my mind’s eye, or hop from place to place in the story without concern for how the reader will read the story.
What I mean is, a critical element of writing without a framework or outline is to remove the shackles of writing in a straight line. Yes, the reader will have the story in a straight line, and they will read the story in a straight line from “Once upon a time” straight through to “happily ever after.”
But, as the writer, I do not have to write it that way. Not at all.
This is the method by which writers can get “unstuck” from places in their story where they’ve bogged down. Going somewhere else in the story to write something more interesting or more easily flowing might be just the solution a writer needs to keep the story moving.
I learned this, just this morning, from that blog series by Dean Wesley Smith I’ve been following, which he calls “Writing Into The Dark.” (I like that term so much more than “pantsing.”) It opened my eyes to whole new possibilities…and scared the bejeezus out of me.
See above; I’m a linear, process-oriented person. I like steps, I like them in order. So the idea of hopping around wherever in a book, writing whatever, and simply making progress somewhere with the intent to tie it all together at some point, makes me twitch.
One of the more important “rules” of writing this way is, the writer is not allowed to draft. This isn’t negotiable. When writing, this is the only draft, except for copy editing (fixing things like poor word choice, or sentence structure, or spelling if the software didn’t catch it). No rewriting; there will be no daunting (and discouraging!) second draft.
So, the writer goes along happily and realizes s/he needs to make a plant, or add a bit of foreshadowing, for this section to work. What’s to be done?
Well, the answer isn’t to start over from “Once upon a time,” that’s for sure. Instead, the thing to do is go back and fix what needs fixing, right at the moment the creative voice recognizes the problem. The writer, listening and trusting the creative voice, stops dead (or at the next stop point, I suppose), backs up to where the plant or insertion needs to be, and fixes everything that needs fixing through to the current point in the story.
Then move on, with everything resolved.
Dean Wesley Smith calls this “cycling.” He goes back to a point x-number of words back (I think he said about 500 words), checks/fixes/inserts, and moves on. Very clever. I’ve heard this before called “editing on the fly” and it makes a lot of sense. Taking a minor step back, doing what’s necessary, and then progressing.
And the story does progress.
His analogy was digging a tunnel through a mountain. Dig a little, stop, remove excavated material, smooth and shape the tunnel, and then dig more. Lather, rinse, repeat (a favorite expression of mine lately). When the tunnel emerges from the side of the mountain, there’s a beautiful, smooth, scenic tunnel, not the rough-hewn hackings of John Henry.
But there will still be times when all writers – pantsers, yes, but outliners too if they’re honest – will bog down, get stuck, and hit what they think might be a wall.
(Side note: this happens almost inevitably at the 1/3 mark in the story for all writers, whether they plan and plot or write off the cuff. There are other points too, but this one is almost universal.)
That wall turns into a speed bump (again, Dean Wesley Smith’s analogy – I’m nowhere near smart enough to come up with these on my own) if the writer can remove themselves from the straight, linear writing.
The writer can, and should, jump to a new point when they hit that bogging stage in their writing. By so doing, they progress. The mantra for this writing method is, “Write the next sentence.” This is how you get past the blocks and difficulties encountered along the way. When a stall happens, write the next sentence.
But, the next sentence may not be the next sentence the reader will read in the final story. It need not be. It just needs to be the next sentence, whether in a new part of the story, at the end, or wherever.
That’s a tough lesson for me. A very tough lesson.
I highly recommend Dean Wesley Smith’s blog series “Writing Into The Dark.” When he’s finished, it will be cleaned up and put into a print book, so it won’t be free forever. Get it while you can, and don’t neglect the comments on each article. They’re insightful too.
If you’re a writer, are you linear, or non-linear? Can you jump from one place to the next without a second thought or hesitation? How do you pull it all together at the end to make a final manuscript?
Sound off if you write this way. I’d love to hear from you.
PS – Image came from here.