Keep Your GPS, Just Give Me A Roadmap

RoadmapI used to be a hardcore plotter. I worked out every detail of my book in advance. I outlined. I knew what would happen, when it would happen and to whom it would happen.

Then I’d sit down to write and find myself bored stiff. It was like I’d already written the story. In a slightly different format, sure. But even so, there was nothing new, nothing exciting. I had shot my wad, so to speak.

So I took a break from the book and started writing and selling short stories. I’d begin with a vague idea, and twelve hours later I’d written an entire story. I just let it flow. And it flowed like a mountain waterfall during the spring melt.

I started to wonder why I liked writing shorts so much. Of course, there was the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing, submitting and selling something. But it was more than that.

I realized what had jump-started my passion was the more spontaneous process. I’d get an idea—a place to start. I’d figure out where I wanted to wind up when I was done—my final destination. And then I’d write. I’d stay on a straight course for a while, then maybe back up and make a turn, try a slightly different route. I was still headed in the same general direction, but I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d get there. Freeway all the way? Or blue highways and back roads?

For me, writing is a lot like taking a road trip. On road trips, I don’t need GPS. I don’t want a voice telling me how many feet before turning right, or that I missed my turn and need to recalculate. Especially if that missed turn was intentional. Maybe I’d seen a detour that looked more picturesque, a trail that seemed more exciting. However, I don’t want to get hopelessly lost either. So I never leave town without a map. I like adventure, but I want to get my bearings from time to time.

On my current WIP, I’m using a roadmap instead of GPS. Rather than plotting the book to death, I’ve jotted down possible plot points—like circling landmarks on a map. Now I simply figure out how to reach them while I’m writing. (Yes, “simply” was sarcastic.) Sometimes I pull over to study the map and consider my options. A new idea could steer me somewhere unexpected, and that’s okay. It’s not like I’m locked into nonrefundable hotel reservations in towns I don’t want to visit. I can go where the story takes me.

Like a road trip, writing isn’t necessarily about hauling ass from point A to point B. It’s about enjoying the journey and appreciating the scenery along the way.

Holy crap! Writing is fun again


One thought on “Keep Your GPS, Just Give Me A Roadmap

  1. Spot on, Leslie.

    As a fellow hardcore plotter, I find that sticking to major plot points (rather than plotting down to each specific scene) is a much more interesting and flexible way to write. The truth is, I never know when the Girls in the Basement are going to cough up an image or snippet of dialogue or plot twist that changes my direction slightly, so I have to be on my toes! Those are the moments and frequently ring truest in the story, so I value them and want to honor them rather than wrestle them back into my predetermined timeline.

    Thanks for the reminder to pay attention to those little diversions that can provide such a rich texture to the story — so long as I don’t run wild with them! 😀


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