Permission To Not Write In A Linear Fashion?


Following on from my last post about writing styles, plot and structure, I have been wrestling with my next novel. I am 6,000 words into the manuscript but last week I hit a wall. The story refuses to be written in a linear style. It refuses.

I have several key scenes in my mind and have been wanting, itching, to write them but the little voice inside my head says – you’re not there yet, finish the introduction, take your time. So, I struggled on, limping through ways to unfold the characters, their motives, setting the scene for future events. I almost gave up.

Over the weekend, the story – which, let’s face it, becomes your inner world while you write the novel – evolved and wouldn’t let go. I was still faced with the same problem on Monday when I sat down to write. I wanted to keep going and I couldn’t. If you have ever seen a race horse at the start of a race practically ready to storm a building, let alone the track, you’ll know what I mean when I say I wanted to skip the links, the build-up and just cut to the chase, if you’ll excuse the pun.

Animated sequence of a race horse galloping. P...

I did something I haven’t tried before, I gave myself permission to just write the scenes which needed writing and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I can link them up successfully. This, I suppose, follows the scatter graph model which I talked about. I know that some writers use this method but it is risky and I’ve only ever written one. word. after. the. next. one. chapter. at. a. time.

It does, however, feel a little like constructing a jigsaw in the dark in the hope that when I turn the light on all the pieces will give me one story and that the picture will look good and just as it should.

How do you write? Do share your techniques, methods or tips however strange or unorthodox. It would be really interesting to see how other writers work.

10 thoughts on “Permission To Not Write In A Linear Fashion?

  1. I like to say that I am the most non-linear person alive, but I recently heard someone else claim that title! Being non-linear though is a gift and a challenge, especially in a world that has been trained to think linearly. But one learns to do with what they have and make the most of it. The reality though is that we live in a non-linear world, but have imposed our linear thoughts on it, thereby creating most if not all the problems we suffer. So accept the non-linear and try to reach another place in our minds that has yet to be corrupted by linearity. They are there.
    If you want an excellent example of what I call perfect non-linear linearity try reading Orhan Pamuk’s “My Name is Red.” My favorite line is: I don’t want to be a tree, I want to be its meaning.


    1. Great comments and some really thoughtful ideas. Thank you. I really enjoy Orhan Pamuk, possibly for that very reason, and am currently reading his book, Istanbul: Memories and the City.


  2. I tend to write linearly but recently read a writing book that made me think a little differently about it. The book basically said, if you get stuck, put some XXX’s in and jump ahead. Then when you read through, you’ll see the XXX’s and be able to write what needs to go there. It’s all about momentum and doing what needs to be done to keep writing and I think it’s about finding what works for you. This time around I’m going to be less stressed about staying in that straight line.


    1. Sounds interesting. What’s the title of the book? I think it’s easy to get a fixed idea about what you ‘should’ be doing instead of giving yourself the freedom to try different methods. We’ll see how it goes but so far so good.


  3. I tend to skip around, writing scenes as they grab me, but usually after having the overall structure in my head. Sometimes, jumping around to key scenes helps me uncover character traits I might not have thought of linearly. And then it’s easier to include those traits into earlier scenes.


    1. Thanks, Tom. That’s really helpful. It’s never crosses my mind to write in any way other than from start to finish…until now. This book is knotty in structure and refuses to follow convention and I wrote this post to justify my methods and to see how others write. It is definitely working well to jump around but I have a structure and I know where the story is going. I think you’re right that it can help to uncover character traits, also the the mood and style of the writing. I tend to go back over my work, layering it to add more detail, so gaining an insight into how the key scenes will work at an early stage seems to be proving profitable.


  4. That’s really interesting. Having spent some time writing screenplays, I think that writing out of sequence is a more common practice among screenwriters than novelists. But in truth, I think that you just need to go with whatever’s working for you and whatever feels right at the time.

    Funnily enough, I’ve just written a blog post about how I write so come and take a look… (Although I’m not sure if I’ve answered all of your questions it!)


    1. I wasn’t aware of the methods of screenwriting but it makes sense. You’re right that going with what works is the best way forward. Thanks for the blog post mention, I’ll take a look.


  5. I write in a linear fashion, mostly because I don’t know the other bits until I’ve written the preceding bits.

    But yeah, write whatever part of your novel is exciting you at the moment. Capitalize on that momentum. As we all know, that momentum doesn’t last forever.


    1. This is an experiment as it’s a really different story. I normally writer straight through, as you do, but I can’t with this one. I was really blocked with the scenes further down the line whirling through my head. Once I gave myself the permission to break the mould and just write them the words began to flow again. I’ll see how it goes. It’s not conventional but it’s working.


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