I jump around during the writing process. Is that bad?

by Adria Lang
(Ontario Canada)

Question: When I'm plotting out specific scenes that pique my interest at the time, I often freefall or scribble dialogue that happens later in the story, perhaps even books later.... I don't know where they fall yet because I just know that these events will eventually happen and I'd like to get them down while I am feeling conviction about these scenes or the characters' actions. I know enough about my characters that their actions will be consistent enough, but in your opinion, do you think that this writing approach may be destructive or prolong the process??? I just find it difficult to start at chapter 1 and go. It's almost too linear for my Aquarius brain.


Answer: I'm all for recording ideas when they come to you, before they get forgotten. I'm also a plotter by nature, so I like to plan what's coming.

What you might want is some kind of a map for your story, so that when an idea comes to you you can stick it onto the appropriate spot on the map where it will eventually be used. As the map gets gradually filled in, you will be able to edit the ideas into a consistent whole. You can see if there are any that need to be moved around, etc.

Some people use software programs, paper files, or notebooks to record these ideas. Personally, I prefer a system that lets me see the entire story at a glance - a wall chart or bulletin board. You have to find a system that works for you - that lets you file as many ideas for future reference as you like, while making sure nothing gets lost. Ideally, it should be a system that lets you easily see the relationships between different ideas or parts of the story so you know if you are building up a consistent whole, and if what you are writing now will fit with the ideas you want to use later.

Of course, it may happen that, as you work on the story, you may find that some of the ideas you had earlier no longer fit with how the story has evolved. In that case, you must choose whether to revise your map or revise what you've written. Always make choices that increase your passion for the story.

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Mar 09, 2014
Re: Jumping Around
by: Todd Rogers

Hi Adria!

Glen is a superstar in how he answers questions each and every day here, and his advice has been so invaluable to me as a budding writer that I know any advice he gives is well to be heeded by yourself.

I just wanted to chime in real quick, however, because I am a Gemini/Taurus cusp and I know what it's like to have thoughts that race ahead of where I am in a story, email, a post like this, etc., and getting a flood of ideas (when it rains, it pours does it not?, while a wonderful, beautiful thing, can be a bit overwhelming if you're not careful and good ideas or epic storylines and plot twists can be lost if you do not have a place to jot down your random thoughts.

There was something that Glen mentioned in his response to you that resonated huge with me.

When he said he is all for MAPPING OUT the storylines, throughlines, sign posts, and other names for what, essentially is your plot and story, I immediately thought of this tool which I have come to know as an indispensable program to help me keep my thoughts tied to an idea or to a story in general.

It is a mind mapping software called FREEMIND, and it can be found at http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Download (forgive me for the plug, Glen)

I think you should look at the screenshots on this page and choose the downloader that fits your computer's operating system and then install this to your computer and then take the free tutorial by Googling FREEMIND TUTORIAL and getting the learning curve out of the way.

I hope this helps!

And great luck and success to you in all your writing endeavors!


Mar 09, 2014
re: Freemind
by: Glen

Hi Todd, you're making me blush.

If Freemind works for you and it's free, it could help others too. So thanks for the rec.

I've used mind-mapping for decades, so I appreciate the value of such a tool (though personally, I find it easier to mindmap with paper and pen than a mouse/software.) I've also used Outline 4D, which maps all your ideas, scenes, etc. along a timeline or (for screenwriters) a screen-timeline. But there are plenty of other software tools for writers that are designed to help you organize notes.

Of course, my other beef with software in general is that it doesn't let me look at an entire story at once because it won't all fit on one screen. If something is off-screen, it's "out of sight, out of mind." Hence, the wall or bulletin board approach.

Of course, the downside with a wall is that you can't take it to a cafe or subway to work on. So until something like a google glass tool becomes available, each person has to look for the best tool for them. (Maybe a long scroll of paper, accordion folded???)

Mar 10, 2014
LOL accordian paper :D
by: Adria

Thanks Glen and Todd for the tips!

I've been juggling around formats between paper and computer files, and I too like certain aspects of both. And I've read your other answers to writers about organization techniques, and I liked the binder idea too, but like you say, if it's out of sight it's out of mind sometimes.

I like the idea of mapping. I feel like I'm at a vulnerable stage right now, where scenes are so sketchy that they make sense to me but I don't want to leak any of my plot/story because it probably looks trivial to others....

My Mom noticed my whiteboard when she was over one day and said that it was like I was trying to get everything about my characters life up there.... (She's also a Taurus, @Todd... But she won't admit it ;/)

But I definitely took to heart the part you @Glen say about <>

And I like your last line about only add what makes you more passionate about the plot. That was good.

MY OTHER ISSUE AT THIS POINT IS: I'm really critical of storylines/plots in other stories/movies (i.e farfetched actions/reactions, why would you go there/do that you daft character???, Honest Trailers material, that sort of thing...) which I find affects the plotting process.

Blogs and comments and YouTube channels are full of naysayers and it seems half the population is just waiting to tear apart discrepancies and action and physics flaws, and that makes me paranoid. Sometimes it's warranted sometimes it's just like, "Ok, throw the writer a bone..."

But the more I notice holes in other storylines the more I analyze my own stuff and think, <>

I'm not trying to be snobby about it - just practical. I want to deliver something believable.

But I also really liked what you said in another answer about writing something first that you really love, just because you want to.



Mar 10, 2014
re: Other Issues
by: Todd Rogers

LOL, Adria!

We humans can certainly be crazy folk at times, can't we?

You are certainly welcome for the advice/help! I know the value of seeking wisdom and advice from a group of peers, and I have the benefit of a writer's community myself to bounce ideas off of, and to see new ideas congeal on the screen or paper in front of me.

And nothing, as I am sure you know, is more empowering than that feeling that you've created something awesome and whole; that is good and read worthy.

I just wanted to point you to the direction of another resource here on THIS website, if I may, that addresses the 2nd part of your reply today, and that is the issue of not being satisfied or totally secure in your storylines, plot points, etc.

Have you taken the liberty of reading Glen's "Create a Plot Outline in 8 Easy Steps" and applying the wisdom there to your writing endeavors?

I am using a different set of instructions for the moment, but I am finding myself referring to this document at http://www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com/plot-outline.html

I would take what you currently have, read the article, and perhaps try and use signposts and other methods as Glen has repeated many many times here and see if that doesn't help clarify your process a bit.

That way, you can be about the business of writing your awesome story without feeling like you're at the mercy of the process.

Mar 24, 2014
I will check that out too @Todd, thanks!
by: Adria

Yes, I have been taking notes and paralleling my work with the 8 Steps. It is a good format to investigate the layout of your story and setting - so you know what to trim and what will move the plot along. It's helping flesh out transitions that used to be vague to me. And the points Glen makes about the same formulas being totally different sagas helps too - the Luke Skywalker vs Harry Potter deal. It's tricky to fall somewhere between originality and cliché. But as C.S. Lewis said, “Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

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