By Shelly Ellis

I have a confession to make and it’s a secret I’ve kept from all my editors: I’m not a linear writer. What does that mean? Well, basically, I write my stories in pieces. Whenever anyone asks, “How far along are you with your novel?” I stay vague and say, “Oh, I’m about 70% done,” or, “Four more chapters to go!” What I don’t tell them is that the 2nd, 7th, 13th, and 25th chapters still aren’t written.

I write like I’m constructing a jigsaw puzzle, mending the disjointed chapters and scenes together to make a completed work in the end. Writing this way has benefitted me, enabling me to finish stories faster than when I tried writing chapters in sequence. But I know there are pros and cons to this method and it may not work for everyone.

The Downside:

• It works better for plotters, rather than “pantsers.”

You have to have a rough mental outline, sometimes even a written chapter outline, to do this well. Otherwise, remembering the story arc can get confusing. As I write, I keep a checklist of chapters with a brief description to help me remember.

• You sometimes forget the details of the book, from character descriptions to emotional shifts.

It’s not just plot points that can get lost. When you jump around, you often find yourself going back or leaping forward to previously written chapters to remember little details about the characters, conversations, and setting to make sure they’re consistent.

The Upside:

• Each chapter seems fresh.

Some novels suffer from loss of momentum as the story progresses. They start out strong and go flat by the end or become bogged down in the middle. It’s hard to do that with this method because each chapter is the first chapter from your perspective.

• It’s a good way to combat writer’s block.

Ever get stuck on how to start a chapter or how to rewrite a scene that just isn’t working? Skip it and go onto another scene, even if it’s ten chapters away! The solution will come eventually. Meanwhile, you’re not wasting time trying to figure it out or settling for weak writing just to move onto the next chapter.

• It forces you to be conscious of the flow of the story.

I do a lot of rereading and editing for this method. Writing in pieces forces me to go back and read my novel critically for consistency, tone, and momentum. I’m constantly approaching previously written chapters with fresh eyes, like a reader would.

So that’s the method! Again, this isn’t for everyone, but if you’re looking for a way to re-energize your storytelling, the writing jigsaw puzzle may be worth a try.


Shelly Ellis is a romance and women’s fiction author. Her latest release is Can’t Stand the Heat (May 2013) with Kensington Publishing Inc. Visit her at