Writing Techniques: Out of Order

It’s almost safe to say that no writer writes exactly the same way – it’s a unique process for most. Some folks must have absolute silence, some prefer total isolation, others can be productive in a busy coffee shop whilst other patrons are slurping lattes and chatting with friends. It’s all up to the writer.

And how a person writes vastly differs as well.

When I was writing I’m With You, I wrote the first draft entirely in order until around chapters 13-15 range (can’t remember the specific chapter), then I got stuck. I tried to slog through it, but couldn’t figure out exactly how to puzzle out that segment, so I just moved on to what became chapters 17-19. I had a better idea of where I wanted that portion of the store to go and what I hoped to achieve with it, since it’s a fairly contained section of the narrative. Thus, it was easier for me to draft.

I used to think I had to write in a strictly linear pattern – point A to point B to point C and so on – so when I hit a roadblock, I’d just… stop. Several bouts of frustration and stress later, I’d manage to get momentum going again, but it didn’t occur to me until around my college years that I could write out of order. I could go from point A to point J if I wanted. It doesn’t matter, so long as you can seamlessly link the parts together after they’re all done.

That realization – though simple for some, it was a groundbreaking revelation for me – actually first came to me while writing essays for college. English majors have to write a lot of essays. A crap ton, one might say. And the bane of many college writers is the intro paragraph, which contains the dreaded thesis statement. I used to sit and stare at my computer for ages, trying to think of a compelling intro with a powerful hook, as the cursor blinked mockingly at me from an empty document. To be fair, I’ve encountered many other students and writers who also thought that you had to do the intro first. How else would you know what to write, if you haven’t yet set it up?

I learned, by my senior year, that, as long as I had at least some idea of what I was going to write about, I could just skip the intro, write out the rest of my essay, and then hope motivation and momentum carry me enough to pump out an intro by the time the rest of it is done. Or, if sudden inspiration happened to strike, I could go back and write it out at any point. There are no rules dictating the order in which you write an essay, or a narrative, or any piece of creative work.

By my last couple of semesters, my drafts starting looking like this:

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For the record, I do still believe that intro paragraphs can die in a hole. As you can see, the start of this draft is ugly, my thesis ends with “something something something,” and I haven’t even got a title.

But here is the final version, which came together as I was writing the rest of the essay:

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A bit wordy, but it gets the job done. Your thesis and intro can take shape during the development of the body paragraphs. A lot of the time, I would have no idea how to word my thesis, but I knew what I was trying to prove… and working through the meat of the essay helped me find the right words.

For my current MS, I got stuck on a particular chapter for months – but I didn’t dwell on it very long. I didn’t forget about it entirely, of course, but when I felt hopelessly stuck and had no idea what to write next, I just moved on and kept chugging away at the other sections of the story, the ones I did have a clear path for. Ultimately, I worked past the roadblock and got the chapter done. So, if your writing patterns and habits seem a little unorthodox, don’t let others tell you that your style is out of order. Sometimes, being out of order is exactly what a writer needs.

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If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Paperback is also $9.99 on BN.com.

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Surviving Rock Science

When I was in my final year of college, I had to take a lab science. It was a requirement foisted upon me, not a choice.

I’d thought that I dodged it, because I took an online astronomy class with a “lab” over the summer of my second year, but my university saw through that thinly-veiled attempt to avoid being forced into cooperative classwork and my astronomy credit went toward my non-lab science requirement instead. Total injustice, but whatever. I sucked it up.

I opted for Geology. Mainly because it seemed like the least intense class (science is my weakest subject besides the dreaded beast known as MATH,) and also because it was the only lab that worked with the rest of my schedule. When I walked into the classroom on the first day of the semester, I took the seat closest to the door and prayed that somehow, I would survive the semester with my GPA intact.

As the rest of the class filtered in, I realized that I was doomed. I knew nobody. But everyone else seemed to know each other. This was common for me, as an out-of-state, antisocial, party-hating student living alone off-campus, and it had never really bothered me.

But this class was a lab. Involving lab partners. Which meant that I was going to have to talk to somebody.

The HORROR.

We didn’t do an actual lab for about a week. And then, it came time to pair off. It’s a ritual that’s practiced from grade school all the way through the echelons of higher education, where the strong survive and the weak limp along like a lame gazelle. But for me, it never got easier over the years, due to a toxic combination of crippling shyness and natural resting “bitchface.” It’s the same reason why I always sat alone on the bus from grades 9-12. The other kids were scared of me, and I’m afraid of people.

The professor handed out our lab packets and told us to find a partner. In the time it took me to blink, literally EVERYONE had already paired up with someone, and they were busily working on their packets. Laughing, making bad rock puns, and generally being normal college kids forced to take the class even though their life will never involve terms like gneiss, pumice, or pahoehoe lava ever again.

Everyone had paired up… except me and the other guy at my table. He was on his phone 50% of the time during class and put his bookbag on the seat between us like I had an infectious disease. It was obvious that we were going to be stuck together, but regardless, we both opened up our packets and proceeded to completely ignore one another for about ten minutes and fill it out ourselves.I don’t remember which of us spoke to the other first, but it was definitely out of necessity.

And thus began the strangest partnership in the history of rock science.

I didn’t know his name until our third lab together, and I’m not altogether sure he ever learned mine. I don’t know/remember what his major was. He was pretty rude to me at times, and I wasn’t exactly a shining example of class and charm (not that I ever am). The only thing we agreed on was trying to trick our professor into giving us answers, which never worked, but he often pointed us in the right direction if I whined enough. He still texted 50% of the time. I complained incessantly about not understanding how to read topographic maps. We developed a weird partnership, where we were constantly sarcastic to one another, each thought that we were the smart one, and did not interact unless it was totally required. If we saw one another outside of class we didn’t acknowledge each other.

One time, he was absent for a lab and when my professor asked me where he was, I shrugged and said, “I dunno.” I imagine his reaction was similar for the lab that I missed a couple of weeks later. We weren’t facebook friends and didn’t exchange phone numbers. I didn’t know his last name until graduation, and that’s only because it was in the program. We did not speak about our personal lives or anything that did not involve rocks. After a while, we more or less got along, though we were still 100% sarcastic to one another and I’m 90% sure he thought I was a complete idiot, which is fine. I graduated Summa Cum Laude and he didn’t. I’m sure that was a shock for him (If you’re reading this, Former Lab Partner, then HAHA) but I never found out his reaction because we never spoke after our last lab, and parted ways without a goodbye.

I’m pretty sure I’ll never see him again, and I’m not devastated about it.  If for some bizarre reason I do see him again, our conversation will go something like this:

“Hey remember when we were lab partners in rock science?”

“Yeah.”

“Me too.”

End of conversation. We were lab partners. That was literally it. Strictly business. Strictly rocks. I don’t even remember what he looks like.

But do you know the craziest thing about it? We were one of the the best sets of partners in the entire class.

The only lab we did “poorly” on was the most difficult lab in the entire unit, and we still did better than a majority of the other groups, if not all of them. We got all A’s except for that one, which earned a B. If we didn’t have the best grades in the class, it was only because of individual test scores. I know that I finished the class with an A, and I imagine that he did, too. Despite not being friends, and not even really getting along, we found a weird middle ground and managed to make it work. As much as I hate to admit it, I wouldn’t have gotten an A in rock science without him. I think our professor was equal parts impressed and perplexed by us.

So the moral of the story?

Being paired with a random person in a class isn’t the end of the world, even if you are antisocial and have perma-bitchface, and your partner can’t keep his face away from his phone for two minutes. You too, can survive. And it might just end up going better than expected.