Writing Outside the Lines

Change is tricky. You don’t see it coming or going. You only know that at some point you put away your bread machine, stopped wearing your purple jacket, started listening to talk radio instead of CDs.

I just finished writing a short story using a method that surprised me. Typically I write in a linear fashion, letting the story roll out like a rug. How can you go wrong if you begin at the beginning and end at the ending? This latest tale spun out differently. I wrote the ending first and pieced the rest together like a quilt, working with the scenes that interested me, setting aside those that didn’t.

Both methods are difficult–all writing is difficult–but this new quilt-making approach roused my interest. It was like finding a secret passage or getting away with a clever crime. Could I really do this? What if the story had no momentum? What if the stitches were visible? Well, several people have read this story and I’m happy to say, so far so good.

I’ve heard that it is not uncommon for novelists to build their stories in this piecemeal fashion. I suppose the breadth of a novel, the long effort it requires, leaves more room for fancy. The brevity of the short form is a discipline, compelling writers of this genre to see the point and get to it. Discovering that I can work and juggle at the same time has put a measure of fun back into the job. I can hardly wait for the next surprise.

Dorothy Parker said, “I hate writing, I love having written.” What if you could love them both?

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Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Napa, California. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

3 thoughts on “Writing Outside the Lines

  1. I have heard John Irving say on several occasions that he always starts with the last sentence of the book and then goes back to the beginning and writes to that sentence. Seems to work!

  2. The important thing is to never abandon a good idea. Write it forward, backward, and in between. If none of it seems right…that’s what revision is for.

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