Writing Backwards

I write backwards. Dna I t’nod naem yllaretil, because I’ve just discovered that writing like that does your head in. How are you going with reading it? I’m talking about endings. I write the last line first and then work my entire story, poem or blog around it. I wrote this way as a child and it’s carried on into adulthood. I start with a vague idea and unless I get the ending first, I’ll struggle to write anything preceding it. I’m writing in backstitch, moving forwards by going backwards .

If this method of writing sounds idyllic, it’s not. It’s like an oracle has shown me the treasure at the end of a maze, and I’m at the beginning and the maze is missing. Then I’m so busy building a maze around the oracle’s vision I don’t always allow the story to tell itself.

My long-running WiP has proven to be a strange exception to my modus operandi. Occasionally I find this last-is-first tendency emerging within some chapters, but as for the main story, I only have a faint picture of its conclusion. I guess this makes sense given the complex layers in larger written works. Or so I thought.

Several months ago, my long-running WiP got sidelined by an idea emerging from hibernation. That dormant little seed in my brain suddenly sprouted an ending. Argh! Suddenly I knew how a whole novel would conclude and I hadn’t even finalised the name of my protagonist. So I wrote the end-fragments of this new WiP and put it away again as my brain imploded in a void of unknowns.

It’s a messy way to write. Endings first and then random blocks of writing that I string together with other blocks of writing which hopefully form a coherent book. I’m certain it affects the fluidity of my work and I’m certain I’m writing a lot of words that won’t even make first draft. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to this, but I’m more than willing to hear suggestions! Gaps in your story are gaps irrespective of whether they’re at the beginning, the middle or the end. It’s still a whopping hole in your story. I’m sure if I wrote linearly I’d just be struggling with something else and if I plotted my story fanatically, there’ll still be those plot points that’d evade me.

I do need to flex my imagination muscle more and perhaps practice writing in different directions. It might give me a new perspective. Why are the parts you haven’t written the hardest to write (which is as silly as asking why things that make you laugh are funny)?

How do other writers write? How do you write? It’s not like we’re all sitting with our laptops in the same cafe and reading over each other’s shoulders, counting word counts, differentiating between touch-typers and keyboard pokers. Writers who are fast versus those who are slow, those who could write the leg off a table and those with the time to reattach it while they contemplate their next word, line or sentence. Those who find themselves with too many words and those who struggle to find enough. Someone should do a study or take a survey. Someone probably has. If that’s you, or someone you know, please post a link.

I don’t know whether the end is a good place to start, but I write in backstitch and however you look at it, this is the line I wrote first.

 

Like this? See also this post byΒ Sinead O’Hart.

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10 thoughts on “Writing Backwards

  1. That’s quite interesting. And original. I never thought about writing from the end. I normally write from the beginning, then I get stuck and write bits in between, then I try to connect them and then (hopefully) I arrive to an ending. It never occurred to me others may write differently πŸ™‚ You opened up my eyes. Maybe I should try your approach next time I do something.

    • I wish it was as intentional or even as clever as you make it sound! I don’t mind that it’s not ‘normal’ but I wouldn’t mind writing forwards a little more often. Again, I think I just need practice! πŸ™‚

      • Well, just think of it as “clever” and “intentional”, and your problem is solved πŸ˜‰ And whenever you talk to friends, make a point of proudly saying “I write backwards, you know… my very own style… I know, I know – not many people can do it, but I’m among those lucky few”. See? That sounds much better than “I can’t write from the beginning” πŸ˜€

  2. It’s funny – we live on opposite sides of the earth, and we write in exactly the opposite way. πŸ™‚ I can’t imagine writing the end of a piece before the start. Usually I know, more or less, where I want things to end up, but I never write the end before I begin.

    I read an interview with an author the other day where she discussed her usage of colour-coded notes, because she doesn’t write linearly, and she says it allows her to weave in so much subplot and depth. She writes scenes as they occur to her, and weaves them all together later. I thought ‘wow, maybe I’ll try that,’ before realising I don’t think I could. I write the way I write, just as you write the way you write.

    Trying something totally different once in a while might be good to shake the brain up and get it thinking in a fresh way, though. Trying to write forwards might benefit you, just as writing ‘backwards’ might benefit me. But if this is the way you write (and it clearly works for you!) then don’t worry about it. Embrace your own unique style! πŸ™‚

    • I find it really interesting to learn how others write. I think my backward writing has stemmed from writing the scenes my brain wants to write, and it just so happens that my first focus is usually the ending. From there the next block of writing can be anywhere in the novel, but often at pivotal plot points. Unfortunately my brain’s noncommittal to the parts inbetween. Yes, it’s my brain’s fault πŸ˜‰

      I have a theory that more linear writers are better at ‘growing’ ideas, but it is probably my inexperience and lack of practice. I also think that my writing style is more work because while, yes, that last line was written first, I had to tweak it to better suit the earlier paragraphs, which I wrote after the ending. I’m confusing myself. I might try the colour-coded notes – that really might help. As might trying to write in a different direction once in a while, just to mix things up πŸ™‚ Thanks for your comment.

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  5. I drove my Creative Writing Thesis Adviser crazy by doing this. Every time I got stuck in my novel, I jumped forward to where I knew what was supposed to happen and then worked my way backward – sometimes page by page, sometimes paragraph by paragraph – to where I had left off. Sometimes, he would see my work in progress and just stare at me until I explained why there were big capital letters that said “UGH. I’m skipping head. I’ll talk to this scene LATER.”

    Though, when I’m not stuck, I work in a linear beginning-forward manner. I always have the ending vaguely in mind, but I never tack it down until I’ve nailed down everything ahead of it. I think working backward is just my way of resetting my perspective and getting myself out of whatever corner I’ve trapped myself in.

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