Friday, August 19, 2011

The Organic Joy of Getting Lost

Writers often ask one another, "Do you outline or write as you go?" Or to put it another way: "Are you a plotter or a pantser?" 
I fall somewhere in between. I like writing by the seat of my pants (pantsing), but that only works in its truest form for about the first 10,000 words (sometimes less) before I feel like I need some direction. But I never want a very detailed outline. That feels too stifling to me, even though it's my own creation and I can veer from it as the story evolves. I write a very loose outline at that point and then I veer from it if the story wants to go in another direction. Sometimes I veer too far off and I have to backtrack to make things right again. I never really mind that. It's a part of the journey I've learned to embrace.

It's not just in my writing life that I avoid too much structure or instruction. It's part of who I am. I don't want a navigation system in my vehicle, despite the fact that I have a slightly faulty natural sense of direction. The truth is, I like getting a little lost sometimes. That's when you find the most interesting stuff. I think my husband genuinely fears I may leave the house one day, take a wrong turn, and never find my way back home again. My sense of direction is not THAT bad, but I do like to explore unfamiliar roads. I have too much curiosity to drive past a side road more than a few times before I have to turn down it and find out where it goes. Sure, I've gotten lost as a result. But never so terribly lost I couldn't find my way back home. And I almost always find something enjoyable in my effort to get back to my desired route. Plus, sometimes that unfamiliar side street turns out to be the best shortcut ever and I use it again and again. Then it feels like my secret route. And what could be better than that? All those quirky things you can find along a path of being lost -- the new scenery, the best little bakery tucked in the middle of a neighborhood you would've never known about, the new shortcut that saves you ten minutes -- it's all part of the organic joy that comes from being just a little lost. There's a bit of adrenalin surge when I realize I might be truly lost. Yeah, if it lasts too long it fades to genuine fear, but on very few occasions in my life have I managed to get myself so lost I felt real fear. Mostly, it's wonder and joy. Getting a little lost can be exciting, especially when I find my way back to where I need to be. Heck, then it feels like victory. 

Letting myself get a little lost while drafting a novel works the same way for me. It's a little strange and disconcerting at first. Then I start to see new things and it gets exciting. Sometimes I wonder if I'll find my way back and the tiniest bit of fear creeps in. But some bit of discovery always pops up and renews my joy for the project. And when I find my way to the final destination -- THE END -- it always feels like victory.

I don't think I'd experience that organic joy along the way if I stuck to a structured outline. I do know there are writers who could not feel an ounce of joy from getting lost in their draft. It's not who they are. They need more structure. They're those mystical, highly advanced plotting creatures and they fascinate me. I bet their laundry stays caught up and they never have stacks of junk mail teetering on the edge of their kitchen counters.

I'm just glad I know myself well enough at this point to realize I need to get off the beaten path a little to find my joy.


  1. Amen, sister. :) Here's to unbeaten paths that lead to wondrous new places. Cheers!

  2. Nicely said, Shelli.

    Taking a spontaneous journey through uncharted territory can be exhilarating. You never know when you'll stumble upon a plot twist.

  3. Thanks, Nikki & Donna! Now, get lost! *wink* Hope you both stumble upon something wonderful this week.


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