Monday, May 21, 2012

I Wrote Out of Sequence - And I Liked It

When you start writing, you quickly figure out what kind of writer you are. You're an outliner or a pantser (as in, writing by the seat of your pants); You're tightly scheduled or you scribble whenever you can; You edit as you go or you let the torrent out on the first draft and edit at the end. You write chronologically or you skip around (this is related to the outliner vs. pantser profile.)


No. I really wanted to fit into a writer type - after all, what better way to identify yourself as a writer than to figure out what kind? It bolsters your image of yourself and makes it easy to talk about the writing life. But the more I tried to squeeze myself into a mould, the more uncomfortable I felt. Sometimes I'm scheduled, sometimes I write in the car waiting for Girl Scouts to be over. Sometimes I outline in my head an end point I want my characters to reach, usually I dig around my story, uncovering what comes next.

Thanks to a trip abroad, I had an extended period of enforced writing time (BEST PLACE TO WRITE - airplane, because you have to sit and there's nothing better to do.) But the scene I was on was giving me trouble. I knew that several chapters down my character would be taking a bus to Tuxedo, New York. But I didn't know all the steps that would get her there - I didn't even know who would be going with her. I've never written out of sequence before, but did I mention how boring I find flights? The movies are terrible, the food is depressing and the bathrooms are just sad. So I stuck with the writing and took a leap of faith.

It was strangely liberating. I didn't know how she got to the bus station, or how much she'd changed since I left her last. I instinctively felt that she would be different, more desperate and serious, more vulnerable. So I just made her that way without waiting for the things that would make her so. I surrounded her with people who should be there, whether she wanted them to be or not. I made her uncomfortable. I put her in a bad place, having NO CLUE how to get her out. HE HEE! It was fun.

I know that I will not use the scenes I wrote as they are now. I need to go back and make the connections, plant the seeds of what I glimpsed in that later scene. But writing out of sequence made it possible for me to see that I need to pump up the danger by about 100%. When I was writing in sequence, I was meandering (I tend to do that) and now I have a long list of things I need to do - things I didn't know I needed before.

It's fine to define your writerly self - but don't do it so strictly that you don't let yourself experiment. Be the outliner that occasionally doesn't know what's going to happen next. Be the edit-as-you-go type who (just for a few scenes) lets go and writes without stopping. Surprise yourself. Only good can come out of your being out of your comfort zone.

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