Imagine a beautiful painting – say, a Rembrandt, O’Keefe, or Van Gogh. How did the artist create that? A stroke at a time. Maybe first applying an undercoat of paint to the canvas. Then roughly putting in the background before working in the figures. Probably facial expression wasn’t the first or even second thing the artist painted (not even on the Mona Lisa). I’ll bet the highlights that made the eyes shine were the last touches Rembrandt put on Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.
Same for writers. A story, a scene, even a sentence is a process of layering. We can’t complete a finished piece in a single draft, or probably even three. Once we accept this reality, we can find our best ways to move forward, constructing our creations step by step. Layer by layer.
Here are a few strategies for layering your writing:
Start with the broad strokes. Get a rough sketch of the three acts of your story, even in a few sentences to help you see the big picture.
Choose your own order. Some of us are linear writers, who move ahead a scene at a time. Others prefer to jump around and write the most critical scenes – even the ending – first. Experiment with what works for you.
Work from your strengths. If description comes easily to you, paint your settings before you put in the action. Picture your characters before you create their words. If, like me, dialogue is your comfort zone, make them the bones of your scenes and worry about describing the setting later.
Put in markers. Rather than bog down as you write, leave yourself parenthetical notes in the manuscript telling you what to go back and add later (fill in dialogue/description/backstory here).
Remember, the beginning of your story will look different to you after you’ve painted the ending. Keep your brush moving, my friends!