Friday, September 22, 2023
By Laura Yeager

Why is it that writers think that stories/articles/novels/blog posts/poems/plays must “come out” of one’s psyche chronologically? This is a conceit of mostly beginning writers. From my experience of over 40 years as a writer, this just isn’t the case. You don’t have to sit down and write something from beginning to end.

Recently, I wrote an article for The Writer, but I wrote it in sections that I ultimately “glued” together and formed a piece that made sense but wasn’t conceived chronologically. This piece is one of the best creative works I’ve ever written. I didn’t know where it was going to end up when I was writing it. I certainly didn’t use an outline.

There’s something called a “first line writer.” This is a writer who gets the first line in their head and from there can write the whole piece practically in one sitting. You might be a first line writer.

One method is not necessarily better than the other. Use what works at the time.

I’ve written both ways – used a first line and an outline and gone from beginning right to the end AND written something in units and then figured out how to order them.

One method might be called “mechanical” (something that grows according to rules) and the other, “organic” (something that grows “wild.”)

This discussion falls under the umbrella of a writer’s writing PROCESS. I have a hunch that many writers aren’t keen on revealing their tricks and secrets of how they create. After all, does it really matter what the process is if the product is brilliant?

I teach writing, have for over 35 years, and I have a student who hasn’t said a word in class for a few weeks. He turned in his first paper which was about an Easter egg hunt, and I have to say that it was hysterical. The guy is funny on the page. I can’t teach this. The kid has either got it or doesn’t.

Am I going to ask him how he wrote the piece?

Heck, no.

I had a story published in The Paris Review years ago, decades ago. But the story bears mentioning now because someone asked me “How did you write this?”

My answer wasn’t very enlightening. I told the guy, “It’s completely true,” which it was, lifted from life. In this piece, I didn’t really use any fancy writing technique. I simply recorded verbatim what had happened to me in the span of a few months.

So, you see, there are many ways to write a creative piece.

But what should they all have in common?

Empathy. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes. Even if it’s just your reader’s shoes.

(Why do I feel like the guy in “The Graduate” who tells Dustin Hoffman that the secret to the economy is “plastics?”)

Whatever your writing process – disjointed, chronological, lifted from life, etc. – write with empathy, and you’ll have a chance of going far.

And isn’t that where we all want to go?

* * *

Laura Yeager has been writing fiction and nonfiction for over 40 years. A graduate of The Writers’ Workshop at The University of Iowa, she teaches writing at Gotham Writers and at Kent State University. Laura Yeager’s work at can be found at

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!


Angela Mackintosh said...

Great post, Laura! I’ve also written both ways—from a first line and fragmented. I tend to write fragmented narratives when writing about grief or trauma. My brain remembers snippets, and it never seems to come out in one continual flow, but I love that. Writing with empathy is wonderful advice! Btw, I always ask how a writer wrote something. I’m such a craft nerd. ;)

Laura Yeager said...

Thank you, Angela, for your kind words.

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