What is Your Writing Process? Writing in Order

Many fiction authors seem to have a preference in writing a novel; they either must write the book in order from beginning to end, or they must follow their muse where it leads them, writing ahead as needed. It appears there is consensus among novelists for a beginning-to-end approach, however. That would be consistent with the writers I discussed in my last post who resist revising a draft until the first one is done.

fall-1432252_1280Author and writing instructor K.M. Weiland gives five reasons to write in order and only three to write out of order. This writer and blogger is all in on the former, while another admits to writing out of order but says other writers look at her “sideways” for doing so. I find this debate amusing, because I can assure you that debate does not happen among biographers and memoirists.

A reader of my travel memoir would be forgiven for assuming I wrote it in chronological order. After all, it takes place over a set period of time–six weeks–and is told through scenes, just like a novel. But just as no biographer is going to say, “Okay, I have a lot of material on Alexander Hamilton’s time as Treasury Secretary, but I can’t start writing until I’ve dug up everything there is on his childhood in Nevis,” I felt no need to be restricted in my story order.

I’ll confess that when I started to write the book, I began at the beginning. But as it happened, I wrote it during a two-year MFA program, so I quickly figured out I should write scenes based on who would be my instructor and when chapters would be workshopped. It meant that I graduated with this patchwork quilt, a mostly completed manuscript with holes in it. Yet I challenge a reader to tell me what parts were written before others; I doubt they can, because I can’t when I read it.

nature-1265753_1280That brings me to my WIP, an urban fantasy novel of which I’m about 75,000 words in. I’m writing it mostly in order. But as I admitted in my previous post, I’m stopping at times to make revisions, usually because the process of writing the book is giving me insights that will require revisions, from plot to voice. For the same reason, I find myself having insights about where my current writing is leading me, and so it’s helpful to jump ahead and write a future scene.

It’s like being on a boat; it’s easier to reach a destination if you can toss a line to a dock and have someone tether you to it. That future scene, sitting alone in green on my color-coded spreadsheet timeline surrounded by unwritten scenes in white, is a guide and a helper. I’d note that this is part of why I agree with #2 of K.M.’s list of three reasons to write out of order, namely that it can help you get around blocks. You may be blocked because the path you’re on isn’t clear; that future scene gives you something to write toward.

The bottom line is that, in so many areas of creative thinking, there are no right or wrong answers. The key is to keep creating.

ADDENDUM OCTOBER 3, 2018: I had written ahead a couple of weeks ago–actually it was a scene I relocated from earlier in the book and rewrote to reflect its new role later in the storyline–and the scene I wrote this morning finally connected up with that scene. Now all caught up, my near future will likely involve more writing in order. That said, I have scenes fleshed out in notes, not unlike what Jean describes in the comments below. Should I get stuck, I suspect I’ll dive into those notes and write one of those scenes, and then seek to connect up again with future writing sessions. Ah, the creative process!

18 thoughts on “What is Your Writing Process? Writing in Order

  1. pjreece

    Yes, I write ‘in order,’ but my revisions zigzag every which way. I must say I enjoy all that helter-skelter zigzagging — because it’s when the story web deepens and becomes more complex — and when I come to realize that the story has more to say than I thought when I started. I don’t understand writers who pride themselves in ‘not revising.’ It’s when the magic happens. (I wrote that in order, no revisions.)


    1. Kudos to an outline! For me an outline helps thwart writer’s block, because I have an instruction sheet. On that note, I just read that J.K. Rowling, who now is diving into mystery writing, does her outlining in ambitiously large, color-coded spreadsheets.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, I learned with my memoir that I tend to write long on my first draft! I gather urban fantasies should be 80K to 110K; my first draft will exceed that, but I’ll get it down into that range after editing. With my memoir I did revision after revision, and the chapters kept getting shorter and shorter, until the final manuscript was less than half the length of the first draft. 🙂


  2. Mark Carroll

    My WIP was mostly in order, but there was a couple locations (it follows a journey) I had trouble with and didn’t add in until after the rest of first draft, even though those places are necessary. So it’s gotten several chapters longer since then.


  3. Just remembered this. Margaret Mitchell wrote the last chapter of GWTW first, then worked her way to the beginning. No one I’ve read has given a reason. I have one. She was a perfectionist especially about battle dates and places. The story line had to fit the dates.


  4. Pingback: (2018) (6) Likes at Twitter (Archived) – Gail Chord Schuler Website

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