Biggest Mistakes New Authors Make #2—Jumping the gun- Writing Non-linearly

At a recent Author’s panel discussion, Jonathan Maberry, Mike McPhail, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jon Gibbs, Jennifer R. Hubbard, and Kristin Battestella discussed the biggest mistakes they believe writers make.

Mistake number two was not writing linearly, which means not writing your story from start to finish, beginning to end, without jumping around.

Everyone gets great ideas while they are writing.  When you get one that happens later in the story, do you stop and write it?  I admit, I do this all the time.

To keep yourself moving, have a folder called “revision notes”.  Rather than jumping back to something you wish you wrote, or hopping forward to a great idea you have… place the idea in a “notes folder” so you don’t forget it, and then keep writing.  This will keep you focused on where you are.

I admit I am guilty of this in a big way.  I have whole chapters that are written that will not appear until book five or six, and I don’t have book one published yet… This is why book one probably needed so much editing.

Who else is guilty of this little gem?

Jonathan Maberry:

Mike McPhail:

Danielle Ackley-McPhail:

Jon Gibbs:

Jennifer R. Hubbard:

Kristin Battestella:


40 responses to “Biggest Mistakes New Authors Make #2—Jumping the gun- Writing Non-linearly

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  5. Hi there, just wanted to say, I liked this post. It was helpful.
    Keep on posting!

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  7. Yeah… I do this too.
    I find it does work for me though, mainly because I can see where I want to be and that motivates me to keep going.

  8. I write linearly and without more than a very vague plan. Occasionally a scene (or sequence of scenes) will push itself in my face and I’ll *have* to get it down – the skeleton, at least – whilst I am ‘experiencing’ it. I can think of nothing else until it’s out!

    Now that we’re working on the second book in the series, I’m finding Evernote is perfect for all my extra notes. It’s helping me pull my ‘strings’ together and making sure the ‘design’ is coherent and logical (thanks, Nicky, for the red string analogy!)

    At the end of the day, I write however feels best at the time, and if it takes longer that way, or requires more work, that’s fine – I’m just enjoying the process as much as possible! 😀

    • Yes, I admit that is a more enjoyable way to write, but editing is not fun for me. When I pants, I tend to need lots of editing and chopping of complete scenes that I worked hard on. Which is sad.

  9. Are there two schools of thought on this? I do revision notes, a bit, by writing down ideas in a pocket and/or iphone notepad so I don’t forget them… but sometimes my brain starts composing that topic and it sounds good so I worry that I’ll lose that flow of ideas, those exact words, if I don’t write it all out now, even if it’s not relevant to what I working on right then. It’s a distraction, but don’t some people work better that way?

    • I suppose, and I know I’ve done it. The problem is that it very often leads to waste and re-writing for one reason or another once you actually make it to that point in the timeline.

  10. I am soooo guilty of this 😦

  11. *raises hand* I am very guilty of this. I had the last line of book two of my trilogy written before I wrote one word on book one. I have tons of stuff written for books one – three but I don’t put the pieces in a ‘revision’ folder. I simply save it as ‘Chapter 30’ or some future chapter #. I don’t know if I can write strictly linearly. It feels unnatural to me.

    • I have trouble too sometimes, but I’m finding that the stories come together better when I wait for something to happen naturally rather than jumping ahead. Sometimes, that great scene I spent days writing will never even happen due to decisions I will make “in the past”

      • So true, but you never know when that scene can be used later in the story or in a completely different story all together…names changed and such.

        I really should outline and plan more. It’s not me, though. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. speaking of which, how is the old Chloe poodle?

  12. I have my main story thread that I stay with, but our brains work faster than our fingers and I frequently have thoughts about what might happen ahead of time … it’s natural I think. I just file ’em and get back to than main thread. I might pick up the idea when i get to the relevant point in the story or I might not … however, if I hadn’t written it down, I never would’ve had that choice.

  13. Guilty as charged. I’m a pantser. But I will say using Scrivener is a good way to write those scenes if you’re afraid of losing the ideas. You can keep them in a separate project from your main work or give them their own space in the folder if you know they’ll go in that book.

    If nothing else, those “I’ve got to write it down” senes are good writing practice. After all, we also hear “no writing is wasted.” And I agree with that view. So for me, it’s another balancing act. Try to work from start to finish, but don’t deny the Muse when she wants me to write something out of turn—now. 😉

  14. I am learning so much from you! Thanks for sharing your writing tips! Sandy

  15. Definitely guilty! I’m afraid I’ll lose that thought if I don’t get it down right then; I’ll have to make a revision folder like you suggested.

  16. I work in fits and starts and needlesstoday, I have bits and pieces of stories all over the place. Not good! Help, thanks for the advice I will try anything

    • Try to stay focused. Imagine you are watching a live TV show and it has to happen in order or you will not be able to get to the end. It may help you stay focused.

  17. AWESOME idea! Thank you sooo much for sharing.. 😀


  18. I’ve never really jumped around like that. I tend to go in order, though I’ll think of things to use later on, so I have to be diligent about keeping notes. Hey, finally one thing I don’t need to try and improve on. 🙂

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  20. I thank you for this useful information. I thought my process recently, if it needs to be improved — I don’t really have one per se. I don’t use an outline. I wrote an entire novel like this. Of course my process for short stories is a little different.

  21. I’m going to be little Miss Unpopular here, but I have to admit, I’m a through-and-through linear writer. I spend weeks plotting, and at that time allow myself the liberty to jump about in the plot all over the place. At the end, though, I have a ‘red thread’, or a ‘string of pearls’–lots of chapters lined up beautifully, with many a twist and turn but which, if ‘pulled’, align into a clearly visible sequence; this is the analogy I prefer. Then I can write from start to finish. Of course, ideas pop up as I go along. And like Jennifer, I will put them in a file; into the overall masterplan (another ‘pearl’ on the ‘string’) for the current book, if they’ll fit; or into a hold file for future reference. But once I write, I writer linearly and I don’t think I could do it any other way. Like Christine, I’ve always worried that this might be a flaw but at the end of the day, it’s how I work and that’s all that matters. 🙂 Great post, Jennifer, as always.

    • I used to write linearly always when I was younger. It was only recently that I went off on these tangents. I am coming to find that I was a better writer when I was younger. I had to “unlearn” a lot to get back to where I was.

  22. Every single chapter I have ever written non-linearly I have ended up chucking in the bin. Which presumably means I must be more of a pantser than I think as my characters are never quite right in those later chapters, I seem to need to watch them develop as the story progresses. So for me, non linear writing is definitely a mistake.

    • YES! This is a good point. If you write a scene much later in a novel, you will write the character as they are “earlier”. By the time you actually get there, a lot of character development may have happened… it will no longer seem right.

      Great point, Jessica!

  23. Whew!! That was my first reaction to this post! As a newbie, I worry I’m making all kinds of mistakes. It was nice to see one I have managed to dodge!! I’ve had people suggest that I skip around to stay motivated. I just can’t do it. Thanks for making my linear writing feel like something smart. Lol!