I made a discovery this weekend. Or, rather, a re-discovery, because this little piece of knowledge is something I’ve learned before, utilized many times, and–of course–forgotten until I had a need for it again.
Sometimes, its easier to write backward.
When I was in college, I did try and come up with that all-important thesis statement that drives an essay. After that, though, I would often write in this order:
- Body paragraphs
- Intro paragraph
- Revision of that thesis statement that wasn’t quite right after all.
Why backward? Because sometimes you just can’t know how you’re getting somewhere, until you’ve been.
This last week, between dodging raindrops, staying afoot in huge winds, and lighting LOTS of candles, I got the outline and marketing/course information written for an online critique class that Writer’s Digest will be offering in December. This weekend, I started on the lessons. They’ll build on what I’ve written in The Writing & Critique Group Survival Guide, teaching critique tools and skills by having students critique first chapters or scenes from their classmates.
It took me a bit to focus in, but then I remember the backward writing. Which, in this case, took the form of developing–first–the bulleted list of questions the reader should ask themselves as they critique, and–second–writing the introductory text to set up those bullets. MUCH better.
As I worked, though, I was thinking about the other ways & times that backward writing is the form of choice. And here’s what I came up with:
- Getting your hero to their scene goal and then figuring out the path they took.
- Writing the fight scene between two (or three) characters, and then working out the scenes that will build in tension to that moment
- Working out the climax of your novel first, so you know what’s the most important choice your hero will have to make
- Developing exercises for your how-to book, to focus on your reader’s practical goal, before writing the guide’s main content
- Writing the conclusion to your magazine article, to hone in on the one thing your should take away from the piece
- Playing with the resolution to your memoir, to get closer to the theme of your personal story
Obviously, writing this way will not work every time. The opposite tact is to write through an entire draft–from start to finish, or skipping through the middle–to grow your own understanding of your project. I find that this backward style works best when I’m stuck, when I’m staring at the lead-in or some place in that vast middle of a project and not knowing what to write. Jumping ahead–flipping the coin over–gives me a jump-start, a different angle from which to see things.
And then, I find, I’m writing.
What about you? What did I miss? When do you decide to step off the linear, straightforward path and take a look at what the end can tell you about the beginning?