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Writing in bits

September 25th, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments
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So you’ve got an idea for a story. Writing it should be a simple matter of starting at the beginning and going through to the end, just as you’d read it, right? Well, maybe. But there is an alternative.

There’s a lot to be said for starting at the beginning and working through until the end. For a start, you might not know what the ending is. A lot of stories start with a situation, or one dramatic event as an inspiration. Writing in chronological order allows things to unfurl naturally. You often hear authors saying that, “the characters took
over,” or, “the story wrote itself”. This is what they’re talking about.

But there’s a slight problem with this. Or at least, I have a slight problem with it. Sometimes I know what the next bit of the story is, but I don’t want to write it yet. I’m not in the mood for it. I don’t want to write something flat and uninspiring because of this crap mood. But there is a bit later on in the story that I do feel like writing, for
whatever reason.

This happens to me quit a lot, and I very often give in. It means I have to piece together the bits afterwards, and I end up with lots of different files in one folder (often starting with “draft 1″, but then getting necessarily more descriptive with the filenames as I go on). But I quite like the process of putting the pieces together at the end, as long as there’s not too many.

It seems like it may be counter-productive, and there are disadvantages and pitfalls when working this way that I’ll get to in a minute. But I find it actually helps me to just get on. I don’t want to have to sit there staring at a page or writing something that I know will have to be entirely scrapped and written again. I realise it’s a draft and everything, and I’m fine with that. But I’m talking about a situation where a few pages may have to be tossed aside, and you know it as you write it.

I’d much rather skip to a bit I feel I can write relatively easily and well. Something that flows out more. Then at least I feel like I’m making progress.

Of course, the big danger here is that you skip a bit, never to return. What if you never have the impetus to get that bit done? What if you end up with a Swiss cheese of a story that’s never finished? Well, personally that hasn’t happened to me yet. But I would venture that if those paragraphs, chapters or pages really aren’t that interesting to you, no matter how you try to spin them, they’re not going to be interesting for anyone else either. Perhaps you’d be better off finding away around them.

It’s important to make a quick distinction here. We are not talking about writing that you’re afraid of. If for some reason there is a necessary part of your story that you are afraid of writing (because you think it will be too difficult for example), you should just get on and write it. I think it’s worthwhile taking a minute or two to decide exactly why you don’t want to put pen to paper before you put it off.

There’s also a chance that you’ll return to the previously abandoned section, carry on writing, and realise that you simply can’t get to there from here. You’ve written a future event, but can’t join the dots, and now know you have to scrap it! It’s a risk, I guess, and if it happens, well, them’s the breaks.

And inevitably, there will be times when you have no future event to skip to. You don’t know what’s coming next, and the only way to find out is to write your way there. If you don’t want to at this point, then the best remedy is to just grit your teeth and bear it. It’ll be worth it when you find your way again.

Am I the only one who writes like this? Should I be writing like this, or am I doing my stories more harm than good? perhaps you think skipping ahead when writing is as bad as skipping ahead when reading? As always, let us know in the comments.

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