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Writing a novel—even a short story, for that matter—is not a linear process. An idea reveals in a thousand different ways: a character, a scene, a bit of dialogue, perhaps a title or theme. From whatever point a writer starts thinking about a potential idea, the path to completion takes many directions, and the journey is seldom a straight line.

With the advent of NaNoWriMo two days away, the common advice will say, in one way or another, “Get the first draft down in whatever form (paper or Word document), knowing it will be crap and will require drastic revision.”

I am one of those expounders, yet my first draft does not normally follow from page one through to page 400. Within the writing of the first draft, there are times when the chronological order does not work; I have to shift from the linear view to a more scattered accounting.

The instances when I halt forward movement inevitably occurs when an event or moment in the story future must be written now because, (1) the scene occurs with a fever-pitch need to get written for fear it might be forgotten or diluted if I wait, (2) the instance is revealed full-blown, and/or, (3) there is an important goal to shoot for, probably because of current plot foreshadowing.

At times it is enough to simply make a note about a future scene, a jot to jar my mind, a moment where I know there is something I wish to portray, but the particulars remain misty. The idea dwells in the kernel stage and needs time to grow within my subconscious—those are not the times I’m talking about.

When a full-blown future scene assaults me during the chronological writing, those instances when characters and plot congeal in that perfect adrenaline rush kind of way, I have to put the linear view aside and jump ahead 50, 100, even 200 pages further into the story; the linear story line awaits my return.

I work with a nominal outline, filling in scenes and weaving conflicts as I go. At the outset, I know where the story travels, though never is the journey crystal clear—the journey (how my characters get to the end) is what I enjoy the most about writing, the not knowing for sure how my characters will succeed. In this way I am both creator and reader, the former hoping to surprise the latter.

As I have said many times, the most important thing is to write every day. This is the main thrust of the November writing challenge, that is, to prompt writers to develop the habit of writing each day, and especially those days one is not inclined. NaNoWriMo is also a great time to try a new genre or style, something I plan to do this year.

When you sit down to write, start where it feels most natural; you might find a scene goal that fits perfectly at a future time in the story line, or more often than not, you will begin at chapter one. Either way, do not restrict yourself by only thinking and writing linear—the scenes and instances that surprise you in the middle of writing are often the most fun to write.

See you on the next page,

Rick

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