Non-linear writing

Scrivener is the perfect management tool for non-linear writing, i.e. you can get the benefits of a non-linear approach without the downsides.
In her On Writing blog, Rebecca Blain writes, “When I write linearly, I am able to adjust the events later in the novel due to the events of earlier in the novel,” I would say “When I write non-linearly I am able to adjust the events earlier in the novel due to teh events later in the novel.”
What? Well, I find that when I start out on a novel I don’t really know how certain things will pan out. This is less to do with linear v. non-linear and more to do with how much planning the writer does at the start. I like my stories and characters to work themselves out within the paramenters of my story. Thus, I don’t really know how things might develop later in the book. If I have to write the beginning first, I can only attach the middle and end to that start. But if I write parts of the middle and end first, then I can come back and adjust the beginning etc to what has transpired.
What actually happens is that I go on deeply pondering the story as I write and I switch back and forth a bit as I go. But I don’t jump much into clear blue water and write bits later on, I just adjust things back and forth, back and forth. This is, of course, complicated, but no more so (as far as I can see) than knowing the whole thing from the start.
Anyway, this sort of writing is very had using a linear writing tool such as Word (or any other word processor, or a notebook etc). But it becomes much easier when you use a tool that allows a non-linear approach, such as Scrivener.

The pleasure of Scrivener starts with the realisation that a long form text no longer needs to be either one huge unwieldy lump of text or a mess of separate parts saved as individual files with no connection between them. Scrivener offers not only the opportunity to break a long text down into as many parts as you need, but tools to link, annotate, code and rejoin them at will. Thus, soon after starting to write in the program you find that you are inventing new ways to work. Why? Because it is there, because you can. You might have never known that you wanted to write your novel backwards, or to rejig whole sections, but now you are. And that is liberating.

Of course, you can write a novel in Scrivener from start to finish (through middle), never deviating from your path. In fact, you can plan out the entire novel using the tools provided before you start. It doesn’t force you to work an any new way. But you might.

What it does give you is the ability to see the bigger picture and to mess around with that picture with the option to roll back at any point. To try different versions and to surprise yourself with what is possible. Previously we tended to stick with what worked because it was dangerous to try something different.

And where does this lead? Maybe better novels. Better dissertations, essays and project reports. Better screenplays and journalism. But more than that, I think we might be moving to a new mode of writing, one that maybe better fits our new distributed world, our fast moving multi layered environment. There is surely a call for more sophisticated literature, even if it looks much like the old sophisticated literature.



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