This my most serious writing endeavor ever. I've gotten much farther than I've dreamed of getting. So far, I've been chugging along writing everything in the order that I imagine it being written in the final few drafts. But lately, I've discovered that the more I write, the more my story evolves. It goes both forward and backwards in my story's timeline.


I "figured out" that the characters thrown together don't seem to trust each other as much as I originally thought they did. I decided that it wasn't plausible to for these reasonably intelligent people who were justifiably suspicious of outsiders would just team up and follow my MC because she seemed nice. So now, they are suspicious of her and have their own reasons for going along with her plans.

Now I want to go back and add I things to what I've already written. Things that seemed like background fluff now are filled with mystery and possibilities. So I've been going back and adding sheets. Thank goodness for Ulysses because otherwise I'd never attempt to do the sort of surgery I'm doing to what I've already written.

But now things are getting tangled up. As soon as I go back and add something, I think about things that need to happen in the future. Sometimes it's where I left off and that's easy, but sometimes it's something that happens near the end. Then I start worrying that if I keep jumping around back and forth through my first draft that I'll just end up going around in circles. The trust example is only one change. Several other little wrinkles keep popping up. I now refuse to delete or rewrite any sheets, because sometimes I drop an idea and a scene I deemed obsolete is back in business as the "canon" storyline.

Anyway, should I just plow forward without ever going back and forth? Or is it ok to jump around and change things. I'm not taking about editing. I'm talking about changing the story itself. I'm starting to worry that while I'm writing triple my word count goal on a daily basis, perhaps I'm not making any real progress and I'm just spinning my wheels and thinking too much. But I can't stop myself from playing with the plot because the more I play with it, the more I want to explore possibilities and I end up writing virtual reams of content. If I force myself to plod along with the order the story will be written, I feel resentful and edgy because I'm not writing one of the "good parts" that is currently on my mind. Then writing feels more like cleaning the kitchen floor and I want to put it off.

So help! Am I dooming my efforts by thinking of allowing myself to go off the leash and write any thing I want in any order I feel like? Or should I discipline myself and write in a straight line as much as possible? Which approach is more likely to lead to a successful story?

6 Answers 6


If you are a discovery writer, this is part of your process. Just get it all on the page and keep writing; you'll finish when you finish. However, it is then part of the first draft that you must go back and sort it out from beginning to end and make sure it's a coherent whole.

Writing "the good parts" is fun and keeps you motivated. As long as you accept the idea that at some point you have to return and stitch all the good parts together into a workable story — and that you may have to kill your darlings in order to make your story work — go ahead and write what you like. I am a big fan of keeping excised good bits in a slush file so they can be added back in at some other point if it's appropriate.

If you are more of a plotter, it may be that you haven't outlined thoroughly enough. Maybe you need to work on a more detailed, scene-by-scene outline or breakdown, which would allow you to explore all your new plot bunnies in prècis form without writing them out in detail.

  • I didn't know that there were discovery writers and plotters. I am 100% discovery. My past writing attempts have all failed in the past because I love my characters so much that I could never get them to do more than sit around talking and getting to know each other. I didn't want to "wreck" them by having plot interrupt their talks. This time I've forced myself to write in an action scene every time I get tempted to have the characters just talk for several pages. Now, I'm having characters die off, appear from nowhere, change gender or age. It's crazy!
    – Keobooks
    Jan 15, 2016 at 15:05

Like many answers in life: it depends.

I'm not sure how Ulysses works, but I imagine it can splice/paste ideas, keep virtual notecards, and whatnot

Some writers draw out long outlines and try to roughly stick with them while others rely on stream-of-consciousness storytelling, at least for the first draft. It is also OK to do something in between.

Although it is fruitful to get all of your ideas on paper, you don't want to lose sight of the ultimate goal of finishing your book. Thus, you must show some discipline for forward progress. It is far easier to go back and tie up loose ends and worry about plot changes after your first draft is complete.

Are you spinning your wheels? Yes. But it's not necessarily a bad thing. Scene management is a necessary part of the editing process; it's just very inefficient the way you're doing it.

For myself, I wind up with an "extra draft" because my first run-through looks psychotic or thereabouts. The sentence structure is awful, many of the ideas are inane, and I dead end characters and sequences. But my imagination pushes me forward and subsequent iterations make my story look more coherent. After a complete draft, you can go through your notecards and see what fits.

In the end, subplots come together after a succession of multiple drafts, not multiple scene rewrites. If you write a complete story first before backtracking (too much), your best scenes and ideas will survive leaving the others behind.

Good luck!

  • 2
    Thank you SO much! I thought someone might understand the full extent of my problems and have a viable solution. I figured it would be good to ask for help instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. My gut told me at one point to just make little notes in Ulysses of my plot change ideas but continue pushing forward at the same time. I don't need to rewrite entire scenes, I just need to remind myself that the scene should be written differently in the next go-round. I don't call this my first draft. I call it the junk draft. It's far too rough to be a a first draft!
    – Keobooks
    Jan 15, 2016 at 14:59
  • I'm a stream-of-consciousness writer. I have no idea how some can do it without several run-throughs (I don't have a good definition for "draft" either). As soon as it all starts making sense is when I start writing query letters. Your first three to five chapters have to be pretty well spotless, but the rest of your story can be "roughish."
    – Stu W
    Jan 15, 2016 at 15:10
  • Good to know about the fist few chapters. I'm not a stream of conscious writer with this story, but I used to be. But stream of consciousness would get me through a few chapters and then I'd run out of steam and quit. After 15 years of this, I decided to reinvent my approach. I thought I invented discovery all by myself and was onto a revolutionary idea. Very relieved to find out that it's a very common style. Other writers have figured out smart ways to write like that so I can learn from them my new way faster.
    – Keobooks
    Jan 15, 2016 at 15:19
  • 1
    Hmm, just looked it up, I suppose "discovery" more accurately describes my style....Never was one much for labels!
    – Stu W
    Jan 15, 2016 at 15:22
  • Ahh sheesh. I forgot the first rule of the Internet. "Google is your friend." Considering that I'm trained and worked as a reference librarian that's doubly embarrassing. Maybe I should spend less of my non-writing time finding articles about the writing process, rather than doing images searches to find people who look the most like my characters. ( It's an embarrassing habit anyway. I've developed a crush on my villain because his google image searches turn out the yummiest results!)
    – Keobooks
    Jan 15, 2016 at 15:27

Every writer has a different process. Here's what works for me.

  1. While thinking about the project before I start writing, I make notes about what I want to do and where I want to go. Some people work from an outline, but I never do. I simply work from a feeling about the characters and the story.

  2. When I am writing, I make sure to keep a set of notes about the characters and events in a story, summed up and searchable. I use Scrivener these days, which makes that process very easy. When I want to know where and how a character did this or that, it's easy to find. Usually I mark up such notes in the editing process, so I don't hinder my writing flow. But not always. Sometimes writing collocation notes spurs further plot development.

  3. I write five pages a day when writing a novel, no matter what, and I do that every single day. There are no holidays when I am in the middle of a book. Even if it's crap and I throw it out the next day, I make sure I write those five pages. Often what comes out is overwritten from the standpoint of too many words. I never worry about that. (A short story can be more flexible, and sometimes a first draft can be finished in a day. If it can't, I apply the same daily process.)

  4. Before I start writing for the day, I go back twenty or so pages from the day's starting point and start reading what I've written over the past few days. A lot of editing takes place at this point, usually cutting things, because when I'm in the free-flow-of-words zone I don't edit myself at all. Editing and writing creatively involve two different mindsets, and for me they are antagonists, lawn and lawnmower.

This process is also important because by the time I get to the blank page I am back into the flow of the story. Writer's block is seldom a problem when I work this way.

  1. About the five pages: I have to write the five, but I almost never write more than that. Why? Because it's a marathon, not a sprint. I never want to write myself out on any given day, no matter how hot the flow is coming. Sometimes I will finish a key bit of dialogue if I know exactly what is going to be said, though most of the time I simply make notes about the ideas I have. Because of the daily rereading, I usually don't even need those because I'm back in the frame of mind I was in the day before.

  2. Once I have finished spilling out all the words for a book, it's time for the hard work of editing to begin. It's at this point that I find an outline useful. I skim everything in the first draft and make an exterior outline of everything that has happened. Then I post that on my wall, however many pages it takes, above my central monitor. I reference it and make notes as needed, but I resist the urge to change anything at this point. Often I spot structural flaws here, or convolutions that need to be smoothed out, or issues of pacing, and so on.

  3. Once I have that outline I go back and do a close editing of the entire manuscript. When cutting superfluous dialogue or what have you, it's important at this point to reference the outline and the notes to make sure I'm cutting fat, not bone. If I cut what a character says on page 45, I need to be sure nobody references that statement on page 113.

  4. At this point I get friends to read and comment. Once I get all input I address the issues I think need addressing, then do a final edit of the entire manuscript. (Note: there will still be typos. There will always be typos. Resist the urge, when fixing them, to further edit the prose because it is at this point that you really have no larger context. Just fix and move on.)

That's my process. Some of it is tangential to your issues, but much of it you may find useful. Good luck.

  • 1
    I like that. And now I finally understand what those silly character cards are in Storyist. (Most similar to Scrivener but available for iOS.) I thought you were supposed to fill them out before you began writing. I got frustrated because I found it impossible to fill one out, because I never figure out who they are until I write about them. Damn this word count limit because I'd love to let you know in depth everything you just helped me figure out with this great answer.
    – Keobooks
    Jan 15, 2016 at 15:12
  • I agree with most all of it except the "every day, 5 page" part. I binge-write. Works for me.
    – Stu W
    Jan 16, 2016 at 1:56

There isn't nearly enough mathematics around here. Let's try some.

Consider the extreme case, where every time you write a chapter, or go back and edit a chapter you break the logic of the chapter before it.

Suppose your book will be 100 chapters in length and each new chapter or each edit takes up all of your writing time that day. After chapter three, chapter two will be broken. After going back to fix chapter two, chapter one will be broken etc.

How many days would it take to finish the book? 100 plus a few? Nope. 5,050 days. What's that, about fourteen years?

The extreme opposite case: Forging on, ignoring all the problems in your wake. 100 days to write the book. A couple of days to read it, getting a complete overview of every single problem, and another 100 days to edit each chapter one by one according to your final overview. Total investment, 202 days or about 7 months.

So probably best to steer closer to the second one.

  • 1
    That's serious! Love it!
    – Keobooks
    Jan 16, 2016 at 0:29

I've never heard of Ulysses. I'd suggest you write everything down, even if it contradicts itself. Then you work on fixing it when you edit. Whatever you do, DO NOT BECOME PARALYZED IN A BOG OF DOUBT! Cheers.


I always used to write linear, but when I started my WIP I was planning on making it non-chronological, so I ended up writing it all out of order. It was so much better, I would never go back. Write whichever part of the story most animates you at the moment, don't worry about whether it will be in the final version or not. After you have enough material, go through it and figure out what makes the most sense to put where.

Not only does it keep you more engaged, and eliminate writer's block, it also helps build connections between parts of the text that may be widely separated in the final version. There's absolutely no reason the order readers read it needs to be the order you write in.

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