Writers Advice #5

When I first started scrapbooking in 1995, I did what most scrapbookers do when they first start out, I organized my photos. I rounded up photographs from my childhood, rescued pictures from magnetic albums, and tracked down photographs taken with my dad. It was a big process trying to figure out dates, and put everything in order. I then went ahead and began scrapbooking-“in chronological order”. This was the best method for me to follow at the time since my pages were being crafted into strap hinge books with stationary pages. I was an enthusiastic new crafter and dove into my new hobby head first. After a few years of crafting the linear & chronological scrapbooking was not working to well for me. I would run up against a set of pictures that did not inspire me. I was stuck. You can say it was a scapbooking version of writers block. I began forcing myself into making pages even though I was uninspired. Inevitably I hated the pages I forced my hand at.  A few years later I evolved away from this linear form of scrapbooking. I created pages the way most are made now.  Constructed onto a single sheet of card stock. This method gives you the ability to slide pages in and out of album sleeves, making it easy to move pages around the inside of albums. This change gave me the freedom to wait, and scrapbook only what inspired me at the moment.  What does my tale of scrapbooking evolution have to do with writing?

Writers Advice #5: It’s not always linear.

When I began writing my first book, it was a good thing I was adjusted to creating things not in chronological order. I started with this tiny sketch of an idea. The first scene I wrote is now part of chapter nine. Scenes kept coming, I had plenty to write about, but the ideas were all out of sequence. I was writing everyday, and I did my best to take the finished bits and place them in chronological order. I wrote it all down as it came, and I didn’t judge any of it until it was time to edit.

Outline? No, I didn’t use an outline until after my first manuscript edit. I had to strip 134,000 words from my manuscript. My editor tried, but she agreed-there was no easy half way in my 234,000 word manuscript. We could nail down what could easily be taken out, but then I had some hard decisions to make about plot and sequencing of events. It was then used a sketch outline to aid me in the editing process. It helped me keep track of the essential as I mercilessly stripped out the unessential. My writer friends usually baulk when I tell them this story. They know the journey of writing words in quantities like these, and many know the struggle a good edit is. 

Would an outline have saved me the trouble of a editing out half of my first book?  No. And truthfully I think an outline would have hindered me in the same way those old albums and uninspiring photographs did. I was following the ideas of the story, and along the way I learned about my characters, the environment, and the culture. I now know, what I the author, and not necessarily what my audience-the reader, needs to know about the story.

“Generally a story isn’t finished when there’s nothing left to add; it’s finished when there’s nothing left to take away.” –Gregory Crouch

Gregory Crouch

If you are working off an outline and are stuck on that “next chapter”, the one the outline tells you to write but your mind doesn’t see, move on. Move down the outline to what you can see and write that. Is the outline telling you to write one thing but the vision in your mind is something entirely opposite, write that. Give yourself permission to work out of sequence, non -linear, and in non chronological order. Besides it’s trendy to show the end at the beginning, like the movie Pulp Fiction, or as depicted in several episodes of Breaking Bad. And by all means write the ending if you can see it, especially if it’s a good one.