That is how Tacky the Penguin marches in the book by Helen Lester, which is a great children’s book about being your own bird. Tacky doesn’t march like the other penguins, he doesn’t sing nicely like the others, and he doesn’t swim gracefully like the others. He does his own thing and the other birds end up appreciating him for his individuality.
The title of this post is taken from the book to describe how he marches. He doesn’t march in the neat “1-2-3-4” orderly formation. He marches – well – non-orderly. And that is exactly how I write. In fact, when I started my current novel, I started right in the middle. Then I went back to write a prologue (that I have long since scrapped for a different prologue, because for some reason I find that important to state). Then I wrote an epilogue (which I have long since scrapped completely), then went back to the middle. Wrote some beginning, wrote some much later stuff, and so on.
I’ve never really been an outline writer, per se. In fact, I remember distinctly that for essay tests where we were to have written outlines first… I almost always wrote my essay, then created my outline afterward. I’m not saying this was the right thing to do (nor am I apologizing for it, either- ha! – except, maybe you could do me a favor and not tell my 9th grade English teacher, Mr. Graff, that I did this?), but merely discovering that some precedent for my method seems to exist.
I know that this non-linear writing is not unique. Or even uncommon. But I also know that I would not have predicted how natural it is to me to write this way and that I could make it work. Because it surprises me how I can keep the tone, flow, and consistency of my plot and characters when writing all over the map.
Writing this way is not difficult, and in fact it is in many ways easier and more enjoyable because when I am stuck in one place, I can skip to a completely different section and feel almost like I am writing something brand new. Sometimes, I do feel sorry for some characters who are stuck in sections that I neglect for long periods of time. And then I also feel a monumental sense of accomplishment when I finally knit two sections together. Sometimes I call that process “growing the connective tissue”. But that’s probably only because I am an obsessive fan of the TV show, Bones, and have that ridiculous vocabulary in my head for no other purpose than to use it in odd places like this blog post. Whatever one wants to call that moment, it is a fabulous feeling, knowing that the story is truly coming together.
The more challenging bit of nonlinear writing is finding understanding and willing editors to sift their way through portions of my novel that may or may not be connected to what I sent them before. I have been extremely lucky in that I have two readers who have taken this in stride. One tells me, “I will read anything, whenever you have it, and even if it is two pages.” Isn’t that lovely? She has been a marvelous “alpha” reader for me. Another has also been extremely willing and understanding, though I have managed to give her large chunks at a time that are fairly well connected as she is more of a “beta” reader, so she receives the much more polished bits. I think her first “4, 2, 6, 0” is about to come in her next shipment, however…
Here might be a rough visual idea of the progress of my novel about a week or two ago:
The gaps are exactly that… parts of the story that I had not written, yet. And the end? It would probably be better to make that segment slightly shorter with a dashed segment, because the very beginning of the end is indeed written. Came up with that just a few weeks ago.
Do I have an outline? I suppose I do, but it’s all in my head. If it will give me an “A” to have one, I’ll write it after I finish the story.