Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Writing without a Roadmap

In general I have always been the type of writer to focus on details from the very beginning. I want to know my main character's life story, their favorite color, the foods they hate more than anything in the world. I want to have in-depth understanding of the history of the world I'm writing about, its culture, its people, its mysteries. I want to have a plot sketched out before I ever type the first words of the first chapter. This, I have decided, is detrimental to me as a writer.

Over the past year or so I have started numerous projects. I would start off very excited, as we all do when a new idea hits us, and would eagerly work to plan out major plot points and flesh out my main characters. I'd spend weeks in this planning stage trying to decide exactly who I wanted the characters to be and what story they would tell. Finally, I would start writing, but suddenly this project that seemed so amazing and interesting would lose all appeal to me. I'd write a few thousand words before giving up and leaving yet another word document to gather pixelated cobwebs on my computer's hard drive.

I grew extremely frustrated. Why oh why couldn't I keep myself interested in any of my ideas! Why couldn't I come up with anything worth writing about? Then, an idea.

What if it wasn't about the stories at all? What if the problem was in my process? I was spending so much time planning out characters and elaborate plots that by time I started actually writing the stories all the fun of discovering the world of my story was gone. I already knew who my characters were and I already knew what happened to them. I couldn't stay interested because writing was becoming a point A to point B exercise for me. I needed to make a change.

For me, writing isn't about following a map with scheduled bathroom breaks and hotel reservations made in advance. Writing is a sporadic road trip where you stop when you get hungry and pray you have enough gas money to get you home at the end of the week. The fun is in the journey, in the discovering of a new world of my own creation. Obviously planning will come later in the process when I have a finished draft ready for (extensive) revisions, but for now, for the first draft, I just want to discover things as I go. There will be plenty of time to fix plot holes and flesh out characters later.

So far this new plan has been working pretty well. As per my 2014 resolutions, I have taken at least a half hour to write every single day and so far have about 6400 words written. This might not be much, but it is a start. I still love the concept I'm working with and I can't wait to see where it takes me next!

How about you? Do you write with a roadmap or do you, like me, prefer to just type and see what happens?


  1. Acck I totally feel you, girl. Lately I've been thinking that I have the same problem. For instance, I spent a ridiculous amount of time planning my NaNo '13 novel; I wrote long detailed descriptions of the entire plot, long character descriptions, etc. and I thought it was going to be awesome. ... But then when I actually sat down to write it, I just didn't feel anything for it at all. It was like all the fun and spontaneity had just been sucked right out of it and I ended up hating it with a burning passion.

    I think for me it has to be a fine balance. I feel like I at least need to know the beginning and end and a few key things that happen in the middle––but if I pressure myself to know every single plot point and every single thing about the characters then it's not as fun to write. But I don't think I can just wing it either ... although that's something I haven't tried in years. :P

  2. This is the story of my life.

    I was doing the exact same thing and I was doing it for multiple ideas. But, I've also tried going into a story without any kind of road map and tend to get stuck. What I finally decided to do (and what has been working for me so far this year) was to grab a note book and write out my whole story idea. Beginning, middle and end. Who the characters were and any ideas I wanted to play with. I had a bunch of ideas and I got them all down in one day.

    Then, I moved on to writing. I had a direction for the story, but didn't detail the chapters or the characters. Instead, I'm letting them form as I write. I forget if you read my post on writer quirks or not, but I soon discovered something else during this process.

    Typing is bad for me. When I type, I want to edit while I write. I'll spend hours on one paragraph instead of letting the story form. Additionally, I kept having ideas for future moments I wanted to foreshadow. This lead to return to the medium I used as a child. I am writing the first draft of my book in a note book. I went out and bought myself a bunch of sticky notes to write out every idea I have. As I write, I can fluidly lay out future ideas without interrupting where I am currently in the story. Sticky notes are the best thing that ever happened to me.

    I can't tell you how many words I've written so far. All I can say is that I've filled more than 8 pages (16 pages if you count the back and front as two separate pages) and I'm getting close to ending my first chapter. It's still a struggle sometimes not to edit while I write, but I don't see errors as obviously as I do on a computer. Also, there's something just so satisfying about scribbling out stuff you don't want.

    Good luck with your writing goals!