Despite the fact that it doesn’t yet have a beginning or an end, I wrote 25 pages in the middle of my book last Sunday. For the life of me, I can’t seem to write in a linear way. I always seem to start in the center and work my way outwards from there.
This analogy has probably been used before, but for me, writing is like rolling out dough. You start with a big, blobby mass—an idea of an idea of something you want to explore—and then you press it out from the center, gently working your way towards the edges. But it’s important to start in the middle. If you were to roll your dough from one one side to the other, you’d end up with a lopsided mess.
Of course, everyone writes differently. My sister, a novelist, thinks up her plot and characters first. Then, she methodically proceeds from the first chapter to the last. Isn’t that wonderful? Oh, to write in such a linear way!
I remember the first, chaotic short story draft I presented my prof in college.
“I can’t make much sense of this,” he wrote. “Your ideas are all over the place.”
The poor man! I’d basically dumped a bunch of thoughts on the pages—potential characters, possible things they’d say, possible plot lines, cryptic notes to myself, random words I liked the sound of. It was a strange, jumbled salad that made sense only to me. But two weeks later, I had a solid short story that my prof really loved. I’ve since learned to present editors with much more coherent first drafts, but I still tackle my material the same way: from the inside out.
Another writing teacher once told me “Write where the heat is.”
I love that, and I live by it.
In the nonfiction book I’m s-l-o-w-l-y writing, I invariably gravitate towards the scenes that reach for me with hot hands and say, “Write me first.” I’m trusting that the beginning and end will take care of themselves, as they do in my shorter pieces.
“If you let yourself tell those smaller anecdotes or stories,” writes Mary Karr in The Art of Memoir, “the overarching capital-S Story will eventually rise into view.”
Another thought about writing from the center outwards, if that’s your thing: it’s an opportunity to cut loose.
Life—at least in my case—requires so much discipline and restraint. Because I have a mild lung condition, I’m quite regimented about what I eat, when I eat, when I do my physio, when I go to bed, etc. And as a freelance writer, I have to be diligent and self-directed, otherwise I’d be broke!
But in my personal writing, I can be messy, wild, and self-indulgent in my approach. It’s a rare thing, and I cherish it.
So for now, at least, I’ll continue writing from the middle outwards.
If you were sitting here with me, I’d ask you: how do you write? And why? I’m curious to know. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.
Now, off to find some pie!