Sunday, May 6, 2012


As a writer I’m often like a traveler without a GPS: I’m dependent on road signs I can understand a I flash by. I know my destination, have an idea of the general direction, but am easily misdirected onto byways leading nowhere. I find backing up an essential driving skill. It’s the same with writing.

Often I begin a story or an essay (like this one) with a general idea of where I’m headed, maybe even have the last scene or line as the target, and then the journey begins. Thoughts, characters, situations appear ahead, and if I’m driving too fast I miss the turning that will lead me . . . where? I don’t always know. So I keep on driving on.

Movement forward is not the only direction. Sometimes taking side-trips (even if you must back up, or turn around, or find a new way out of where you have written yourself) can be just what your journey or your story needs. If you have been driving the same road every day, eventually you fail to see what’s around you. If you write the same story every time, especially if you find a formula that works for you, you run the risk of what in driving terms is known as "highway hypnosis:" failing to see things around you until you are suddenly in the middle of the crash you are about to commit. If awareness comes soon enough you might avoid the crash. Otherwise you will find yourself picking up the pieces (if you survive). The same is true about writing, at least for me.

Every story begins with a destination. My road maps are outlines, my way-points are chapters, my places to visit are the characters and their history. I can’t imagine a story (or even an essay) that would reveal itself to me from beginning to end, all at once. Neither can I look forward to a journey where every turn and stop is pre-determined and met on schedule. Turn the key, throw the map on the backseat, and let the road take you. The end of the journey is the destination, but not the routemap.

Enjoy the ride!

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