Marilyn Monroe. Photo: The Marilyn Monroe Collection

Recently, I’ve been mildly obsessed with Marilyn Monroe. I suppose it has to do with the recent NBC series SMASH, but I think it started after watching Michelle Williams play her in My Week with Marilyn, the film that tells of MM’s problems while making The Prince and the Showgirl. In My Week with Marilyn, there’s a postscript at the end of the film that Marilyn went to see Anna Freud when she was in London; after meeting with the sex symbol, Freud’s diagnosis was that the actress showed signs of paranoia schizophrenia. Pretty heady stuff, no?

I don’t have any ambition to write anything related to Marilyn; she’s been the subject matter of many great writers and not so great ones. But just more out of  perverse curiosity about her psyche, I read a recent biography (terribly written), and I watched and listened to some of her interviews and documentaries on YouTube to get a better idea of the woman and not the icon. There are three I recommend one is the last interview she had with Life magazine that was recorded; a documentary on The Misfits, and one about her last unfinished film, Something’s Got to Give.

It’s that latter film that inspired me. To be clear, there’s no MM character in the book, but it was the way the film was shot that has helped me push Julius forward. During that film, Marilyn claimed to be ill and missed a good chunk of filming so what George Cuckor did was shoot around her. In other words, he shot the film out of sequence. And this is standard practice because there could be scheduling conflicts with the actors, locale shoots gone wrong, shooting script needs to be reworked, someone does get sick etc. It’s also more cost-effective to shoot what and who is available instead of waiting around for the star to show up as in the case of Marilyn.

With Julius, one of the many issues I’ve had is that I write in a linear fashion—from point A to point Z. There are times that I’ve come up with scenes that I’m excited to get down, but hesitate to do so because it’s not in sequence. So I had this “aha” moment a few weeks ago of writing these scenes that come later in the book to see what happens and the pleasant surprise is that I’ve become more productive–writing between 1,200 to 1,500 a day.

To some of you this might not be a big deal, but for me it is. I tend to take things very literally because when I read a novel I don’t skip around so why should I do that when I’m writing it? This tendency, in many cases, has impeded my progress.  I don’t know whether it’s the way my brain is wired or maybe it’s a language issue that has somehow shaped the way I think.

What do I mean by that? I grew up in a bilingual home. I spoke English to my father and Spanish to my mother (Castilian Spanish the kind in which the “Cs” are lisped). When I was a little girl, my kindergarten teacher thought I had a hearing problem because she a hard time communicating with me. When she pointed that out to my father, he told her that she needed to rephrase her sentence so that I would understand what she wanted. Once she did that the problem went away. In elementary school, I still had that problem of not getting what a teacher meant because of the way it was phrased and I also took it literally. For example, tomorrow’s homework. In my mind that meant homework that is to be completed the next day, not completed homework that was due the following day.  I never understood why instructors use that expression. Why not say, “Your homework for tonight is to read chapter XX.”  It’s clear and to the point, and less frustrating for both student and teacher.

When I was studying in France, I was taking a grammar class that was split between Americans and Spanish students. French grammar is pretty easy for me because I see how it’s structured via Spanish grammar. For some reason, on that particular day, the Spanish students and I were having a problem understanding the nuances of ce que and ce qui. The Americans were learning it and were accepting what it would translate into English, but the Spanish kids and me, nada. We had these blank looks on our faces and just couldn’t understand the grammar until the teacher in her heavy French accent said, “lo que.” Then there was this simultaneous “Ah!” and we all got it.

And that was a huge tangent to why I’m writing out of  sequence. So here are my words of wisdom: if you have a scene in your head that you know will be in your story don’t wait, get it down. Not only will you feel productive, but if your stuck somewhere in the middle of your story and frustrated that it’s not moving along, writing out of sequence will give you that boost you need to energize your writing.


  • Bingo!  I did that on my last novel and it helped tremendously to get the thing done (if not to get it sold). And sometimes what I wrote – later on – inspired me to go back to the next sequential chapter with new insights into the characters, seeds I wanted to plant that would pay off in the chapter way down the road…
    As writers, we have to do what works for us, and sometimes, yep, that means not writing in a straight line.

  • And this is why Scrivener is such a great tool. You can happily write away, store those scenes or chapters, and then rearrange them when compiling for a final draft. I do this quite a bit with my WIP, a memoir. Sometimes those scenes just beg to be written in or out of sequence. 

  • This actually makes alot of sense. My mother is brazilian and spoke portuguese to my daughter who also had a spanish-speaking caregiver while I was away at work. She understood all three of us (I spoke to her in English,) but getting US to understand HER was a bigger problem until her latter toddler years.