Writing Road Map

Last summer I took an epic road trip around the US: 21 states and 2 countries. It was amazing, exhausting, enlightening, and epic. Did I mention epic? 

While cruising through cities, along the countryside—roads that I don't think had seen another automobile in at least six months— through daring mountain passes, valleys, and rural outposts, I thought a lot. Did I mention a lot?

There's nothing like traveling, driving in particular, to get lost in winding ribbons of gray matter. And when I go there, I often don't try to parse out a number riddle my junior year math teacher gave me (still can't figure it out!) or home decor, or what I want to do when I grow up. I usually arrive in my imagination which consists of words and lands and dragons that can talk. In other words, story-telling, which for me, is almost, but not quite synonymous with writing. 

Over the many miles, I considered characters and plots, fantasy and contemporary, pacing and voice. I created worlds and left them in little, forgotten towns. I sketched characters and waved goodbye to them by bus stops. In other words, I thought about what works for me as a writer in terms of craft, the nuts and bolts of development, and technique. 

Here's the road-tripper's guide to writing a novel, in 5 parts. 

1. Anticipate. "Vorfreude" (n.) the joyful, intense anticipation that comes from imagining future pleasures. 

I love gearing up for a big event, trip, party—you get the idea. I find the anticipation can sometimes be as exciting as the thing itself. 

But you also don't psyche yourself out. Last year, for the first time, I participated in NaNoWriMo and had some belly butterflies when I thought too much about how the heck I was going to pull off 50,000+ coherent words in a month. 

To really soak up the anticipation, talk about your writing endeavor with friends and family or other writers, join a beta or critique group. No worries that you don't have anything on paper yet. Observe how the others involved work dynamically and sensitively. 

Get stoked!

2. Points of Interest.

Similar to above, but this one involves a notebook, a pen, and possibly the internet or some guidebooks. If you're a first time writer it can be helpful to learn some of the finer points of the category/genre you're writing in. You don't have to hold fast to the "rules" but it can be helpful to have guidelines. It also doesn't hurt to brush up on grammar and such. (You don't want to end up watching the sun set over the Pacific, when you meant to watch it rise over the Atlantic.)

3 of my favorite books on writing are: 

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina L. Brooks

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg

I jot down my first thoughts of the story as they come to me in a "good spiral notebook" that I make sure to keep next to my bed in case ideas keep me up at night. There are few things worse for a writer than striking gold at one a.m., telling yourself you'll remember, and then when you wake up in the morning, you're staring at a blank page. 

3. Mix-Tapes. 

I realized, the other day, that some people might not know what this means. AKA playlists. I grew up compiling mix-tapes for every mood and event, and gave them away as gifts. I was also a happy recipient of mix tapes and still have the one my husband made me long before we were a we...except I have no way to play it. Good thing if called upon, I could karaoke, each song from the mix.

For our purposes here, I find creating a mix helpful to get me vibing on my story. I usually add a range of music for the various moods and scenes. Here's a playlist I made a while back for On the Mountain

I usually write in silence so I have full access to all the words in my brain. This works for me. Others like a backing track. Different strokes and all that. I'll listen to the playlist before I start or whenever I want to brainstorm/daydream about the project. I'll occasionally listen to a music while I write. In this case, I have to know the songs so well they're like background noise, which makes them kind of like a soundtrack, otherwise I'm distracted.

Some tunes that work well for me are:

Vampire Weekend

Fiona Apple

The Strokes

4. Get Behind the Wheel. 

I'll leave this one to the prolific, Neil Gaiman:

 "This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it's done. It's that easy and it's that hard."

So get your butt in the chair and write. Don't stop until you're done. I mean, stop for the regular functions of life, but don't let six months pass with a paragraph or two. Unless of course writing that book isn't your spirit's calling right now. If so, that's okay, when the time is right, you'll do it, but also realize, there is never a "right time." Oh sweet paradox.

5. Refuel. 

So you did it. You're bleary eyed, road weary, ready to turn off the ignition and rest a while. Or walk, that's always helpful after sitting for ages whether at a desk or in a car. When you've reached what you think is the end of the road, so to speak, and the first draft is complete, it's time to step away and shift gears, do something fun, reconnect with friends and family. This is when we writers let the manuscript settle.

When you return for revisions you'll be recharged and better able to have perspective on what works in the story, what moves it forward, what stalls it, and how to polish the chrome to gleaming. 

When you're ready, you'll set out on revisions and editing, but that is another road trip all together, for now, enjoy the ride!

P.S. As an alternative to any amount of planning, be spontaneous: grab a backpack, stuff it with a few changes of clothes, a book, some granola bars and bottles of water, a book, or two, and a mix tape. Leave the map behind and set forth on your writing journey!
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