Flexibility: Writing in Reverse

Flexibility Writing in Reverse

Today's post is written by guest author Robin Reul. Robin has been writing stories since she was old enough to hold a pen. Though she grew up on movie sets and worked for years in the film and television industry, she ultimately decided to focus her attention on writing young adult novels, She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, son and daughter. MY KIND OF CRAZY is her first novel. 


It’s a harsh discovery to realize that writing doesn’t get any easier once you’ve been published. It seems like it should, what with making it past the hurdles of querying agents and being in the submission trenches and now enjoying the flurry of attention from social media. Not gonna lie: discovering that my book was trending on Twitter for a couple of hours on its release day was pretty amazing. But eventually it’s time to get back to work on the next book, and it’s a whole different animal.

In the past, I have tried many methods for writing novels easier and faster, from self-hypnosis to screenwriting techniques. None of them seemed to work as effortlessly for me as they seemed to for others, at least not in the initial blinking cursor on the blank page stage. I found so many methods were indeed useful to help plug my story in during revisions and make sure I hit all the marks, but having to think out my entire story up front? That is absolutely terrifying. I may have an idea about where my characters are going, but they may have another and the story can completely change mid-stream. Kind of like…you know…real teenagers. But then I realized if I know where my characters need to end up and I work in reverse, I might have more control over my story.

I realized that I actually tend to think of my stories backwards and cinematically. I tend to know where the story ends before I understand how it needs to begin. I know the characters but not necessarily the point at which their lives connect. I have key scenes that are out of sequence that come fully formed into my mind, and they weave together like a movie trailer. They give a sense of the story and the characters and how they play off of one another, and a glimpse at the setting. It’s just how my creative brain works to break it down.

What was really holding me back were the rules and the ways I’d been taught to think about writing as a linear process.
— Robin Reul

I’m positive my writing life would be so much easier if only I could imagine my story in one glorious, twisty-turny, perfect beginning, middle and end wit fest, let alone write it in 30 days by following the prescribed steps, but I’m not that writer. However, in coming to terms with that also I stumbled upon a valuable personal insight - what was really holding me back were the rules and the ways I’d been taught to think about writing as a linear process. It was only when I allowed myself to throw them out that the words finally came in the way that I wanted them to, unforced. 

Writing in reverse gives me greater clarity in figuring out points where I need to seed the story with things that may be of importance later. The characters I’m writing are familiar with one another by the conclusion, the most honest version of themselves they will ever be in the story. Therefore, it makes it easier to go back into their earlier interactions and make sure they reflect that difference and really show how these characters have grown, both as individuals and within their world around them.

If what you’re doing in your process doesn’t feel like it’s working organically, don’t be afraid to try a different approach.
— Robin Reul

It’s more important to go where the flow of ideas wants to take you than focus on the order and structure, which can make you feel log-jammed and stuck creatively. Different things work for each person, but just like Einstein says in his famous quote, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” maybe if what you’re doing in your process doesn’t feel like it’s working organically, don’t be afraid to try a different approach. Let’s put it this way – it can’t hurt. If you’re a pantser, try using the SAVE THE CAT screenwriting method and see if it helps streamline your thoughts and creativity. If you’re a plotter, try writing without a map and see how different your writing feels. Do writing sprints. Schedule writing time. If you normally work at your desk, go write in a café. In longhand. Try writing at different points of the day. Try writing your story starting at the beginning, then starting at the middle, then starting at the end. In doing so, you might even discover a better starting point!

At the end of the day, there is no right or wrong way to write. But don’t be afraid to push your comfort zones. It may take you exactly where you’ve been trying to go.

 What's a plotting method you have found to be useful?