The Writing Process: Writing a Book Chronologically Versus out of Order
Writing a Book Chronologically Versus Out of Order
How do you start to write a book? Is there any right way to do it? Does anyone who writes even need advice on this? After all, order is one of the many choices that writers make, especially in writing longer pieces. I have heard so many methods from writers over the years. Some use outlines, others make notes first, and some write the entire book out of order. The greatest books in history were all written in different ways, with different tools, and at different times. When I write a book, the process is always different. So, can there be a right or wrong way to do it? Below I discuss my writing process over the years and discuss what factors contribute to each method.
My first book was written entirely in order. This is mainly due to the fact that it started as a short story for a writing class that I took in college, and my teacher convinced me to turn it into a novel. So, the six pages I had written seemed like the best place to start, and I just continued from there.
For the first three months that I spent at home between graduating from college and landing my first full time job, I worked on turning my short story into a complete chapter book. It was nice to have several hours a day dedicated to writing. I felt like Stephen King (more like pre-Carrie, struggling Stephen King - without the wealth and fame or drugs). The best part of the writing process (to me) is jotting down that first draft.
I believe that my time off inspired me to write the book chronologically. With a clear head to worry only about writing and job hunting, I was happy to have a large project to work on. Continuing with one large story idea kept what some writers consider the "imaginary condition" of writer's block away because I didn't have to start with a fresh idea everyday. I just had to build on what I already had. It makes sense to me why so many authors write series. You only have to build the characters once. Then, you're free to play around with them in different settings and situations for as long as you want.
I was often several scenes ahead in my mind, and this kept me focused, typing my entire first draft at my parents’ kitchen table and completing 3-10 pages per day. However, I didn't know how the book was going to end until I got there. That made me as much of a reader as a writer while composing my first draft. I found that interesting, and I was surprised by how easily the next brick in the road was paved despite having no knowledge of how it would work ahead of time.
By the time I found a job, I had most of the first draft done. However, those 40 hours a week that I spent at work really slowed my progress at that point and heavily influenced my editing process. Feeling like I would go cross-eyed editing on the computer, I printed out my entire draft and made my edits teacher-style with a red pen, editing on nights and weekends. I rewrote entire paragraphs by hand and circled spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors. Then, I’d go through my marked-up manuscript and make my corrections on the computer, one page at a time. This was probably the least-fun part of the writing process, but it kept my writing on track.
I repeated this editing method several times until I was sure that I had caught every mistake and tightened every sentence. Needless to say, it took me a few years to edit the entire book. I must have gone through it at least 10 times, and even now that it has been self-published, I still find a line here and there that I think I should alter. At the same time, I was afraid of having to come up with a new project, whether it be a new novel, short story, or poem. This fear kept me in the editing mode for a long time. I think this was ultimately beneficial to the book as I caught more errors and strengthened my writing skills with every edit.
Writing Out of Order
Some writers say that they can’t write a story if they know the ending. Others say the opposite. In my case, I need to know at least a few of the major plot points going in so that I have some dots to connect. If I already know the ending, I need to know how I’m going to fill in the details down the line. At the same time, I always allow room for changes, even if it requires me to start all over. If a new idea is better, I say go with it, no matter how far along you are with the old idea, and if there is a better alternative, you probably won’t get too far before you realize that you have to turn around and start over anyway. The faster you recognize that you’re lost, the easier it will be to turn off into another direction.
Knowing When to Start Over
My second book originally began as a novel for adults that I reworked into a middle grade chapter book. Using the original story as a kind of backstory, I switched protagonists from the older sister to the younger brother, and then it was able to take off. This helped me to build my world and make it more authentic in my own mind. After all, how does a writer sell a universe that doesn’t exist without being able to visualize it in their own head first? My point, though, is that I could have missed out on the story that eventually became my novel if I had stuck to my original plan, which was going nowhere.
I hand wrote my second book on nights, weekends and lunch breaks. Knowing that my writing time was limited, I had to keep myself interested if I wanted to finish it. I would jot down whatever scenes came to mind, building the plot around the characters instead of worrying about how to get through those introductory chapters. I would write a scene at the end of the book one day and a scene at the beginning of the book another. Somehow, these scenes just kept coming to me at a slow, even pace. I avoided writer’s block yet again and gratefully snatched up the ideas as they came to me, slowly and consistently.
Assembling the Puzzle
Once the frame of the story was worked out, these scattered scenes became a giant crossword puzzle that I had to put together. Typing up my handwritten pages proved to be difficult. I was constantly scanning the Word Document for the best place to insert each scene. Continuity was a huge obstacle in the editing process, and I lost a good 10 pages to it (which I realize is minuscule compared to some writers’ throwaway scenes). Once finished, a lot of my edits were done right on the computer with maybe one run through with a hard copy and the nitpicky red pen. This method proved to be time consuming in the end, but it got me through my first draft easier than it would have had I forced myself to come up with scenes in the order that they appear in the book. It is my favorite story that I have ever written. However, I haven't written using that method since this book.
My third book was written in a combination of both methods. The first draft was handwritten during the week and then typed up on the weekends where I could edit as I typed. However, it was all written in order. Many factors dictate the writing process: time, mood, technology, and education. We writers are an indecisive bunch despite the decision-making skills required in our line of work. In the end, my advice is to do what’s best for you in your situation and with your skill set. Whether it works or not, if you feel the urge to change your method, change it. Ultimately, it’s your time, it’s your story, and it’s your call.