March 25, 2009: Non-Linear

Yesterday, I was so tired and so cranky with it that I didn’t even have the will or energy to connect my Alphasmart and post what I’d written on the way home. I’ve had my tired and cranky days in the past, but yesterday’s bout was exceptional. I was asleep before 10:00 PM and slept straight through until my alarm went off at 6:30 AM. Whatever was behind it has passed off; I’m almost entirely back to my usual energetic, focused self.

I was going to post what I wrote yesterday, but I changed my mind. I just couldn’t do it; it was yesterday’s news. That tells me something I didn’t know about my intentions and expectations in writing every day: the post, whatever it is, is from the day it’s posted. It’s about that day, somehow.

Despite being such a fog-bound crank yesterday, I did manage to get a little book-work done. There’s a scene that’s not working — given what happens in it, it should be more intense than it is. I’ve been contorting myself to try to save a particular paragraph, and making a mess doing it. I think the paragraph really does have to stay — if it’s a darling, it’s an important darling, a necessary darling. I just have to use it differently. Last night was all about figuring out what was going on with the scene.

I approached it by brainstorming on paper in a non-linear way. No lists of ideas: instead, I start with unlined paper and write chunks of thoughts in all kinds of directions. It’s kind of like mind-mapping, but the words aren’t all oriented the same way. Writing, I turned the pad this way and that; to read what I wrote, you’d have to do the same thing. I got a lot of useful information, things that I don’t think would have come to me if I’d been writing lists.

Thinking about this, I just realized something. My entire adult working life has been spent around people who, for the most part, think in a linear way, in situations that reward linear thinking. So I’ve learned to think in straight lines, instead of sideways leaps, and I’ve absorbed the idea that linear is the way to go. Linear thinking has also become associated in my mind with getting it right, doing a job that will be praised, not panned.

Although I’ve been able to learn to think linearly, I don’t think I’m naturally a linear thinker. My preferred mode is to make leaps, then backfill the parts I missed. My creativity operates best, I’m coming to believe, when I’m not trying to stay orderly, following a straight line. One of the things Writer’s Café has given me is freedom from trying to manage keep the order of my story in mind all the time. I can jump around, knowing that I’ll be able to see the shape of my story by looking at the outline window. Because I can jump around and not lose sight of the whole of the story, I write what comes to me, building it up from every direction. Writing in a non-linear way feels more productive to me.

I’ve had these epiphanies before, stretches where I’ve felt that I’d solved my problems and unblocked myself. The only way I’ll know that this isn’t one of those instances is when it doesn’t end, and the book gets finished.

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