The other day I was thinking about my writing process and I realized that I do it backwards to the conventional wisdom. When I get an idea, I sit down and begin writing. I don’t do an outline, or any research. I get my ideas down on paper and it’s only as I write that I see the shape the story is supposed to take. If I need to do research, I do it on the fly, and I don’t apply a plot outline until after I’ve finished the first draft.
Some of you may think I’m weird but as I was considering my process it occurred to me that the reason I write in this way might be because of my theatre background. For many years I analyzed plays from an actor/director point of view. I was handed a script and discovered the shape of the story and character arcs from the finished product. For that reason, I find it difficult to create the plot outline from scratch before writing the story that is in my head. In a way, this is very inconvenient because I find myself waking up in the morning realizing I left out a vital part of the story. I must then go back and rewrite that scene I worked on the day before, and I may have to do that four or five days in a row before I’m satisfied with it. When the first draft is completed, I go through the manuscript dropping out scenes that slow down the story and creating new scenes that add to building the suspense in the plot.
Many writers advise newbies like me to keep writing the first draft without going back to revise because it slows down the process. We have the opportunity to make changes when the rough draft is finished. Maybe they’re right. All I know is that if I don’t get the improvements down on paper when they occur to me, they sit in my head clogging up my creative flow until I add them to my story. This does slow me down a good deal, but it’s my process. At some point I will change my method, but for now I’m stuck writing backwards.
I have never been a big believer in one right way to do anything. It’s true that there are as many ways to create a piece of artwork as there are people to create them. So my writing advice is find the method that works for you and expand upon it. If you attend writer’s workshops or take creative writing classes, remember, the method of writing that the instructor is proposing is their method. It doesn’t have to be yours and don’t let them bully you into thinking you are doing it wrong. There are no rights or wrongs when it comes to creative thinking. In fact it’s the people who think outside the box who come up with the best stories, theories, inventions, or artwork.
Having written that, I thought I’d include a portion of a new scene in my novel that I added in my latest round of revisions. It’s one of those scenes that I had to work on for several days before I felt it had all the elements it needed. I will no doubt do more work on it after I get comments and do more revisions, but for now, I’m happy with the way the scene turned out.
The set up: The Space Between Time is a time travel story of sorts. Jenna Holden in the present finds her three times great-grandmother’s journals. When she begins to read them, she enters her great-grandmother, Morgan’s consciousness. For her part, Morgan slowly becomes aware of Jenna’s presence and takes comfort in it as she travels from Vermont to become a teacher in Southern Oregon. The year In this scene is late fall 1859. Morgan is facing the town council, school board, and other town organizations on charges of indecent behavior. This fracas is lead by banker, Herbert Perry who does not keep it a secret that he does not like Morgan. This is Morgan’s explanation about what happened.
* * * * *
Charles cut him off by saying, “I agree with Mrs. Cobb. Let Miss Carlyle tell us what happened.”
Though Morgan was warmed by Charles support, he was only one man. Rage licked through her veins as she studied Herbert’s bloated face. He looked like the slugs that left slimy trails on her sidewalk. Resentment clamped its icy fist around her heart. Why does he hate me so? Getting herself under control, she cleared her throat and said, “I’ll be happy to respond to the charges.” Charles sat down. She stared into Herbert’s cold eyes for a few moments gathering her strategy. The silence lengthened and as he was about to speak, she cut him off by saying, “However, first I’d like a few questions answered. Mr. Perry is it not true that you have disliked me from the moment I stepped off the wagon train?”
Herbert glared at her, “What does that have to do with your conduct last night?”
“It has everything to do with why you’ve accused me of misconduct.” Again he was about to speak but she went on. “Isn’t it true that your first words to me had to do with the fact that you thought it inappropriate that since I was an unmarried woman, I should have an entire house to myself?” He started to speak, but again, she proceeded as if she were a lawyer interrogating a witness. “However, wasn’t the building of the house suggested by Mr. Evans and Mr. Pendleton, and was duly approved by the school board before my arrival?” She didn’t give anyone time to answer before continuing, “In addition, can you deny that every time I attempt to withdraw money from my account, which is legally and rightfully mine since I have no living male blood relatives, that you force me to produce the notarized letter from my lawyer, of which you already have a copy, stating that I am to be given complete control of my account? And, unlike other members of the community, I must wait an entire month before you will release the funds to me?” At this question, the women behind her gasped, while the men mumbled and shuffled their feet.
Mr. Wheeler startled everyone when he spoke up. “Yes, that is true. Miss Mancruso, who also has an account, receives her money on the day she fills out the withdrawal slip.” Morgan was grateful that Mr. Wheeler had spoken up. He had whispered those facts to her upon her second attempt to withdraw money from her account. Attention shifted from her to Herbert who turned his venomous gaze upon Mr. Wheeler. He, however, was unperturbed. She was sure he’d lose his job over the revelation.
“Thank you, Mr. Wheeler. I may need your testimony if I notify my lawyers of what has taken place today.” Herbert’s face looked like mottled stone. Morgan went on. “I wonder, if I were a man in this situation, would we be having this inquisition?”
“But you are not a man,” said Herbert, “and women must be held to a higher standard.”
“Why, may I ask?”
“Because it was Eve who ate of the fruit and led Adam to sin. Women must redeem themselves.” said Herbert lifting his chin. Some men nodded in agreement but most of them sat as still as statues.
“And that is an account of the creation of the human race written by a MAN in a culture where women were property, much like they are today.” She paused to let what she had said sink in. “As you well know from my credentials, among the subjects my father taught me were biblical criticism, world history, and world religions. The bible is one of only a few such accounts where the woman is to blame for a moral fall from grace. Many other religions revere the feminine aspect of God.” This statement created another stir in the room. “That having been said, I cannot help that I was raised for half my life by a man who taught me to think like a man. I can’t go back and unlearn what my father taught me, nor do I have any desire to do so. However, I have always followed a moral path as evidenced by my behavior since arriving, and by the references which I sent with my application. Yet at my first assumed offense, you decided that I should be sacked.
“However, to get to the point of this meeting, this is my side of what happened last night. When I discovered that neither the O’Days, or the Jeffries could attend my dinner party, I did as my friends have testified, I consulted not only Mr. Jeffries, but Mrs. Cobb. They both approved of my plans. We had our dinner at which we conversed, and played a game. Nothing more, so, I can only conclude that you have a personal dislike for me and have brought forward this vendetta for reasons of your own. I surmise this from the fact that you frequently come to the school to observe my teaching.” She had not mentioned this fact to the other school board members. Charles directed his disapproval in Herbert’s direction.
Before she could continue, Herbert sneered, “And it is evident by your teachin’ that you are an abolitionist. Ah am not sure that is the kind of teacher we want.”
Charles spoke up. “Herbert, Oregon is a free state, albeit a white one. What Miss Carlyle believes about slavery is her own business as is yours, I might add. I’ve had no complaints from any parents about her spreading her personal views and since you have no children in school, you have no right to harass her by showing up unannounced in her classroom. You jeopardize your seat on the school board. But that is a matter to be dealt with at another time. Miss Carlyle, will you please continue.”
She paused looking at Herbert, who had turned a dark shade of purple. Taking a look around the room she continued. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am perfectly willing to resign my position if that is your wish. However, I will not leave Table Rock City. I have funds elsewhere and can live very comfortably working with Mr. Evans at the paper and doing all I can to contribute to the growth of this community. You may get rid of me as a teacher, Mr. Perry, but I will still be a thorn in your side.”
By the end of her speech, Herbert’s jaw seemed made of stone. He was about to speak, when Arthur stood. Charles said, “Arthur, I hope you can bring some wisdom to these proceedings.”
“I hope I speak for others here when I say that I think Miss Carlyle acted in a most considerate manner last evening. She was deliberate in seeking advice from more than one quarter as to the appropriateness of having dinner alone with three bachelors, all prominent and respected members of our community, I might add. As Miss Carlyle has pointed out, it is no secret that you, Herbert, have not approved of her since she arrived.”
Arthur took a deep breath and continued. “May I also say, that she has been an asset to our town and our children. If we condemn her and release her from her position, it will take a great deal of effort to find a replacement with as wide a range of knowledge. I for one want her to remain in her post.” Turning to Charles, Arthur asked, “Is it appropriate to call for an indication of support for Miss Carlyle by a show of hands?”
Charles smiled as if he thought it good that for once someone else was taking the lead. “It is entirely appropriate. Before we call for a show of hands, does anyone have have anything else to add?”
The atmosphere in the room had changed markedly and it appeared that Herbert was resigned to his defeat for the present. After a considerable pause, Charles surprised everyone by adding, “Ladies, I would like you to vote as well. If you are in support of Miss Carlyle retaining her post as teacher of our school, please raise your hands.” A majority of hands went up immediately, others more slowly.” With a wicked smile, Charles said, “Those who do not support Miss Carlyle, raise your hands as well so she knows her accusers. Mr. Cobb and four older men looking over at Herbert, slowly raised their hands. Herbert only glared.
“Support carries for …”
Just then Emmet burst into the room. His clothes were covered with dust as if he’d been riding full tilt from his ranch. “What is this I hear about sacking Miss Carlyle?” His face was contorted in anger and his voice hard as rock. “If one of my hands hadn’t heard what Herbert said to her at church and told me, you would have cut me out of adding my two cents worth.” He looked around and saw for the first time since his entrance, that the room was full to bursting.
“We’re not sacking Miss Carlyle, Emmet. This is not an official meeting of any of these bodies, though we are keeping a record of what is said and done for future reference.”
“Well, why meet then?”
“To clear the air and see how to proceed,” said Charles.
“Well, I still wish someone had sent for me. I’d have things to say in her defense. Have you voted yet?”
“Yes. We’ve decided by majority vote to support Miss Carlyle which means no further action will be taken against her.”
“Good.” He put his face near Herbert’s. “Thwarted again, Herbert!”
* * * * *
I hope you enjoyed that scene. Thanks for reading. Feel free to leave a comment from a reader’s point of view. Also feel free to share with a friend.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2016
One thought on “My Process is Backwards”
I don’t think it’s backwards to go the story down. One suggestion, though, when you find things to add, that is good, but stopping the whole process to go back and get them in May truly slow you down. I have kept a separate notebook where I jot down changes and ideas. I then go back and fold them in at a later time.
Sometimes those “important” changes and additions aren’t so important or are supplanted by even better ideas.
But – there is NO wrong way! If your way works for you, do it.
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