5 Awesome Things About Non-linear Writing

So there’s this thing I’ve heard people call cycling through a manuscript or writing out of order. Whatever rocks your boat. I’m not going into the details right now—that’s a whole other bag of kittens. But, as a firm believer in doing just that, here are a few reasons I’ve kinda sorta transitioned into this approach—and while I don’t see myself going back anytime soon.

#1 It helps avoid writer’s block

In NaNo season, back in the day of outlining or writing linearly (not related, but I did both at the same time and it didn’t really work for me), I used to have the biggest black spots of despair where I either a) wasn’t sure what scene should come next or b) I didn’t want to write the already plotted next scene in that writing session. These days—especially helpful in times like 2020—I write whatever effin scene I want. (And yes—some scenes are literal boinking.) Goodbye, writer’s block. Hello, fun.

#2 It makes for a better plot

At least it does for me. When I think of something I’d like to see happening in the novel, I go to the general plot timestamp where I can see it happening, and then I put a note there—or a dialogue fragment, more often, or whatever comes to me first. (I put a storm around the plot climax like that just this very morning.) When I see stuff missing in the early parts of the novel, I go back and jot down what needs to happen and/or be introduced there. And if I can already see how it’ll be glued into the story as a whole, even better—I write it like that. If I don’t, there’s always time to go back to it later.

#3 It’s helpful for people with varying concentration levels

Wait, isn’t that everybody? Still not sure on that. In any case, for every two scenes which basically write themselves, there’s at least one which feels like pulling teeth. (I always envision awesome scenes of heavy negative emotion, and then, when we get there… it just doesn’t happen. Being an optimistic person really sucks sometimes.) If you’re having a jumpy-brain day, just plot ahead. If you’re capable of diving deep into a scene, go for it. I really, really like flexibility in my writing.

#4 It makes it less likely you’ll write boring scenes

Unless you’re on a tight deadline, why wouldn’t you write what you feel like writing today? (If you’re on a tight deadline, kudos and good luck.) Motivation is a twisty beast, but I love playing alongside it. If a scene is not working, you’re probably more likely to ditch it if it’s not already deeply rooted into the narrative. Win-win, right?

#5 Helps with character consistency

The problem is quite simple—for those of us who are ‘discovery writers’, first and foremost, thinking up a character beforehand can be extremely tricky. (Read: we get bored.) But, getting to know them while writing them can be a lot of fun. Except you think of great little details to include, and you find out more about them as their plot develops alongside them, or you discover you need a character flaw or trait earlier in the novel to use it at the exact time it could very well solve the plot… and what do you do? You go back. You travel back in time, in the manuscript, and plant that little Dingbat A. Which, for some reason or another, meant I was useless when editing my own shit a few years ago, when everything was just… linear. Tightly interwoven in a way I couldn’t even begin to bring apart. (Also: boring.)

I’ve only begun writing like this pretty recently, so there’s no way of telling whether the readers will hold the style in the same high regard as I do. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there (or dig a whole other course for the river altogether!).

Fingers crossed!

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.

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