Saturday, December 10, 2011

the writer's toolbox: on having a compass

No, silly. Get your head out of the gutter!

I'm referring to the compass.

Criminy uses one in WICKED AS THEY COME,
albeit a somewhat magical version. You need one, too.

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Have you ever tried walking in a straight line? Like in a big field, or a forest?

You think you're going in the right direction. But one of your legs is inevitably shorter than the other, or you have a hump, or you broke the heel on your fantastic shoe.

It is a simple fact that even if you start out walking straight, you end up walking in circles.

That's why we have maps. And compasses

Because wanting something isn't enough.

You have to have a plan. You have to keep checking back, looking at where you are and where you should be. You have to get back on track when you stray.

For this reason, I have a scale and an outline.

I don't live by either, though.

Sometimes, I do that mangy diet that no one likes. Sometimes, I skip dinner. Sometimes, I eat an entire pan of brownies or Rice Krispy Treats in one day.

Like today. Burp.

But every morning and every night, I step on the scale, and that number sits in my head, consciously and subconsciously. Sometimes, the scale makes me put down the cupcake and drink three cups of hot green tea. Sometimes, the scale makes me smugly pull a cupcake out of the freezer and jam it down my gullet at midnight while cackling madly. I don't hate myself or regret delicious meals or get on the treadmill, but I do make plans to do better.

And writing is like that, too.

Part of my process involves being open to possibility, dreams, half-asleep nudgings, scribbled notes, and bits of songs. But all the time, in the back of my head and the front of my manuscript, there's an outline.

Here are the characters. Here is where they'll go. Here are some scenes. Here is the ending.

Sure, there are surprises along the way. Sometimes, new characters pop up, and I'm completely delighted with my fickle muse. Sometimes, things go bad. Way bad. They get out of control, and people die, and I'm as surprised as I hope you'll be. But always, there's the outline, and when I come to a crossing point, I can figure out where things need to go next.

Without a compass, whether in writing or life, I get adrift. Without a goal, I don't know where I'm going, much less where I should be. With a GPS or Mapquest, someone is constantly telling you exactly what to do next, and while I need that sort of direction in driving, I don't want it anywhere else. Ever.

So that's my advice today: check your compass.

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2 comments:

naughtybrent said...

Oh, D! You're so smart. This is an excellent post.

delilah, the unruly helpmeet said...

Thanks, Brent!