I don't know how I made it this long. Last year, I got 2,000 words in and quit. Maybe the book hadn't been ready. Maybe I hadn't been ready. While I feel like there will always be an excuse to not write that page or finish that chapter, I feel that, for this book, at least, I needed some extra time to process the events in my life that originally spawned the book idea (the book itself is about an extremely dysfunctional school, something I came up with after having an incredibly negative teaching experience). The book is comedy and farce and absurdity, but I was still too angry about said situation to really be able to write comedically. I look back on some old segments I had written for the novel, and they just sounded bitter. Said segments ended in the trash folder pretty quickly.
Which brings me to this post's theme: there is nothing wrong with writing ahead in your novel, so long as you're willing to kill it off when necessary. As Stephen King would say: "Kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings."
No one is immune to it: we have a story idea in our head, but instead of starting at page one and working our way forward, we want to write the scenes we have playing in our head right now. I am just as guilty of this as the next person. At least 2,000 of the words written this month were for scenes that actually happen much later in the book.
I am all about writing out scenes out of sequence, for many reasons:
1) It gets you writing your book. I don't care if you just scribble out some dialogue or a brief description of a room or the very last paragraph of your novel. You are writing, and you are writing for your book. Whatever you are doing is a thousand times better than just sitting around, thinking about how, someday, you'll write that Great American Novel.
2) You are getting the ideas out of your head. Aside from the obvious creative satisfaction of seeing those scenarios finally on paper, it clears up your mind. It takes a lot of energy to keep those scenes, conversations, character studies, etc, alive in your memory. Once it's out of your head, you have the space to come up with more ideas. I recognize that brains don't actually work as simply as that, but finally getting out what you were thinking about does relieve you of the task of remembering it, which will help you feel more free to think up new ideas.
3) Most importantly, you are warming up the creative side of your brain, making it a lot easier to write Chapter 1 than before. Think of it as the walk around the block before you go running. The same way many writing teachers recommended doing a free write each morning to get your mind ready, writing out a random scene gets you in the proper mindset, if not more so, because your focus is on your book.
However, there is one major caveat to writing scenes out of sequence: there is a very strong likelihood that, once you finally get to that spot in your book for that particular section that you have already written, there will be no place for it.
This happened to two different scenes in my first novel. Both scenes seemed perfect when I had originally written them. But the book ended up taking on a different path. One scene was deemed redundant while another scene actually took away from the novel. There was nothing for me to do but copy/paste them into a different Word document ("writing graveyard", if you will), delete it from my book, and move on.
Sometimes, you just have to kill your darlings.
Was I crushed when I realized this? Of course. But I wouldn't have changed a single thing. Writing out those now-useless scenes had helped organize my thoughts. If anything, it fleshed out certain aspects of the characters that made them more realistic. While the reader might never know about these traits, it helped me as a writer connect better with the subject matter at hand. And, one thing I've noticed, is that the more believable and complex you make your characters (even if it's only in your head), the more it feels like they're actually telling the story for you.
If there is anything I have learned from writing, it's that story ideas are a lot like children: you can have hopes and goals for them, and you can guide them and help them reach those goals, but, in the end, they're going to do their own thing. And, honestly, that's one of the marks of a good writer: the understanding that a story is almost an autonomous creature and the ability to let things go in the name of the bigger picture. The understanding that the story is bigger than you and more important than your self esteem.
So here I am, at Day 20. I gotta admit: I didn't expect to last this long. Now I'm 2/3s of the way in -- or 10 days out, depending on how you see it. Thanksgiving is in two days. I fly to Tampa next Tuesday, where I'll finish out November driving back and forth from Tampa to Miami to Ft. Lauderdale to Seabring for all sorts of wedding and family (and micro-vacation)-related activities. But my resolve is strong: 1000 words or more a day, no matter what.
And then, who knows. Let's not get ahead of ourselves :)