Words by Seren Livie
Every time I start a new writing project I say to myself, this time’s going to be different. I’m going to get organised, plan ahead, and write in a way that is orderly and logical. It usually takes less than an hour for this all to fall apart.
It will start innocently enough; I’ll get stuck writing my introduction and promise to come back to it later, or skip over a sentence so I can keep writing continuously. Before you know it I’m surrounded by papers containing completely unconnected chunks of the same work, filled with gaps and highlighted sections telling future me to come up with a better word than 'nice'.
Writing can be a chaotic mess fuelled by caffeine and stress, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your writing is to embrace this chaos and own it. You just have to make sure you’re embracing it in a way that doesn’t leave you with a load of unusable nonsense.
Here are the best ways to embrace the chaos of your writing while not going too overboard.
Outline your piece
While some people can just sit down and write freely, improvising as they go and letting their writing flow out of them, most of us will have to do some sort of planning.
This planning doesn’t have to be massively detailed or precise; it can be as simple as coming up with a title or basic points laying out the beginning, middle and end. Try to start with a title to focus your piece, and then do a basic plan laying out those three basic elements.
Planning is all about helping to focus your piece so it doesn’t end up meandering off into the wild. Focus on big ideas over intricate details, bullet points over long sentences. It will help you manage any chaos you might create later on, and let you see the bigger picture of your piece without getting too lost in the mess.
...but don’t be married to your plan
That being said, even the best laid plans rarely survive the first draft. Writing can be unpredictable, with ideas you initially think are great turning out not to work on the page, only to be replaced with better ones.
Think of your plan as a guide rather than a strict instruction manual, so don’t feel too guilty if you end up going off track. As long as the piece still works, that’s all that matters.
You don’t have to start at the beginning
For some people, writing your way forward from the start and powering on through in order can help them to construct their writing. I’m not one of those people. Sometimes it can be easier to write out the main sections of your piece first and work backwards from there. That way, as you write your beginning, you know exactly where your story is going to go.
You’re the writer, not the reader, so don’t feel you have to construct your story in the order that it will be read. As long as you have a rough idea what you’re doing, and you make sure the sections you’ve written will all piece together, you can largely do what you like.
Cut and paste is your friend
Similar to the idea above, don’t be afraid to play around and experiment with the order of your writing. If you think a scene or a paragraph might go better earlier or later in your piece, try it. Have a play around and see what works and what doesn’t.
One of my favourite things to do when writing is to print out everything I’ve done, grab some scissors and go wild. It helps me visualise my writing and test out different structures. It’s messy but effective, and also kind of fun.
Edit, then edit some more
Editing is where you leave the chaos aside and go through with a critical, logical eye, seeking out the mess and setting it right.
The most important thing to do while editing is to work out what parts of your writing you really need, and what parts are just unnecessary fluff. Yes, your five line description of this tree really is lovely, but do you really need it?
This can be understandably hard to judge sometimes, since your writing is almost like your baby. This is why having someone else read over your work can be a real benefit. They’re not attached to it like you are, and may be able to spot mistakes that you’ve glanced over.
No matter how disorganised and jumbled your writing may seem, it can all be sorted out through some vigorous editing. It really will help you create the best piece you can.
Seren is a Creative Writing student and aspiring full-time writer at Falmouth University. Follow Seren on Twitter right here and check out more of her writing here.