How to Safely Skip Ahead

 A memoir student asked me recently if it was okay that she was skipping ahead in the chronology she planned for her story. She was jumping a time period of several years to write about a part that came more easily to her to write. The material she was skipping was important, she said, she just didn’t want to write about it right now.

The answer is it is okay to skip material, if you do it with a temporary place-holder. We’re not always ready to write about an incident or a time period in a piece or book we’re writing and in a first draft it’s great to put your attention where “the juice” is, where you have the energy for the story you want to tell. 

Here is the way to work with skipping content to an advantage:

• Don’t close the file on your computer. You may never come back to it. Instead, write a brief note about what belongs there in your story. This is a place-holder. Put brackets around the note, like this: [eighth grade]. You might want to highlight the place-keeper in boldface type, like in this example, or put it in another color so you can find it easily later. Key here is writing in the place-holder so you can find it easily.

• Continue with the story where it picks up after the incident or time period you’re not ready to write about, or jump to the next chapter if that’s what’s needed. 

You’re free now to write! You haven’t skipped anything important to the story, you’re simply holding a place for it so you can keep going right now. When you finish a complete first draft—or sooner, if you feel ready—go back and fill the place-holders.

There is a time for writing when the time is right.