Sometimes, when writing a story, we get bogged down by the erroneous notion that we should write in order, from beginning to end. We may have an idea for the ending, but can’t figure out how to start, so we sit and wrack our brains, staring at the ceiling.
I’m here to tell you that the writing police won’t arrest you if you write the end or the middle first! You may leave the ending at the beginning or write the story working back from the end. The key here is to follow the energy. Ignore the voice that says “You should do X first.” Instead, follow the voice that says, “I’m excited to do Y.”
I wrote the climax of the novel right after I wrote the opening paragraphs because the inspiration struck. Later, as I approached the end of the novel, I became more and more worried about whether I could pull off the ending. When I finally came to it, I re-read the climax I had written almost a year before. I ended up revising it, but that first draft gave me the courage to hammer out a new ending.
When I began my second novel, I started by inventing my own theory about ghosts. I didn’t even have a plot. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. In the past I might have bogged down with despair, telling myself all kinds of untrue things. But I was having so much fun writing it, so I kept going, even though I didn’t know what it was or where it would lead. Later, I was glad it was written, because it had become boring to me. Instead I was all about plot, and as I was sorting out my character’s interactions with ghosts, I was glad to have my supernatural rules mapped out.
Here’s a Corollary: Digressions are Maps. Even if you are writing things that are digressions or not that interesting as scenes, write them anyway, because you need to write them in order to understand your plot or your character. You can always take them out later. Every once in a while, a student will hand me a story that starts with a long summary of the world the story is set in. Instead of telling them, “You did this wrong,” I tell them, “These first pages are your notes, your sketch. It’s important you wrote them, but the reader doesn’t need to read them. You can jump in with the action.