Writing is a journey. Get lost.

I’ve spent my mornings this week on the road, returning early council minute books to some of the towns scattered around our county.*

Many of the city halls I visited are small, storefront affairs tucked away on residential streets with only a flag or tiny sign to distinguish them—which meant that even armed with Mapquest directions and a few past visits, I felt a little lost the entire time, as if I’d just missed a turn or was about to miss a turn.

But that was okay.  I’m used to it. For most of my life, I’ve had a terrible sense of direction,**or maybe only terrible anxiety about my sense of direction, but either way, it feels the same.

I’ve learned to give myself extra time when I travel to an unknown—or sketchily known—location, so I can get lost and found without worrying about being late.  Because I hate being late—and I mean loathe it on a pathological scale—far more than I hate being lost.

I’ve given myself permission to pull over, check the map against local landmarks, throw myself on the mercy of kind pedestrians, calm down, and figure out whether I need to move on, backtrack, rearrange my itinerary,*** or if I’ve actually stopped right in front of my destination.^

Anyone else sense an analogy coming on?  Knew you would.

If writing is a journey—and there seems to be a consensus of sorts on this—then at some point(s), even those of us who prefer to travel without maps are gonna worry about being lost.  Sometimes we’re right and we need to find our way back or call for help.

But maybe we’re taking an unscheduled side trip.  Maybe we’ve reached the right place at the wrong time and need to work on our timelines.  And sometimes we’ve arrived at exactly the place we need to be.

I know the moral of all this is obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway.

Keep driving.  And for heaven’s sake, record the trip.^^

* Our library won a grant to have our earliest city and county minutes microfilmed and asked all the other incorporated municipalities if they wanted in, at no charge. Yes, I’m excited—that’s a hundred years of county history preserved and better, safer access (from the POV of the original items) for researchers.

** Mom maintains that this is because I read in the car so much as a kid.  If I’d pulled my nose out of the books long enough to pay attention to what was outside my window, I wouldn’t have been starting from ignorant scratch after I got my license.  This, by the way, is coming from a woman who prefers East and West to Right and Left, and has trouble navigating in my town because “the river is going in the wrong direction.”  Perhaps denial is also hereditary . . .

*** The only downside to extra travel time is not getting lost.  It was either wait forty minutes for the clerk to arrive or move on to the next place and come through again on my way back.  Worked fine.

^Which on Tuesday looked exactly like a renovated two-car garage, for good reason.

^^And make back-up copies.  And blog about the flat tires and how you changed them in the rain.  And you might send the occasional postcard to your family and friends, too—they worry.


9 thoughts on “Writing is a journey. Get lost.

  1. I say get a GPS for the real driving, and do at least a rough outline for your writing. But allowing yourself that occasional little “side-trip” is a great idea for both, Sarah! Sometimes it can take you to places more interesting than your planned destination.

    • Maybe I’ll ask for a GPS for Christmas.

      I outline a little along the way, once I think I know what a story will be, but it’s a flexible thing. But I find that doing a rough, unprofessional quality synopsis along the way is even more helpful.

  2. Have I mentioned that your blog never fails to make me giggle. *grins*
    The reminds me of the NaNoWriMo pep-talk from a few years back talking about traversing the scary middle.

    • Thanks—if you’ve said it before, I certainly don’t mind the repetition! 😀

      Yeah, my non-fiction’s all about writing what I know . . . and I know scary middles.

  3. Oh, yes. Getting lost is a very comfortable state of mind for me. The problem is that I don’t care. I like getting lost, not having a map, not knowing where I’m going or where I’ll end up. It’s not very responsible but it’s a way more colorful way of living.

    Since having kids I’ve had to pull back on that aspect of my personality. I don’t own a GPS; for short distances I rely on the kindness of strangers and for longer trips I take my handy navigator man along. There’s nothing sexier than a man with a map. Well, besides one with a tool belt.

    • As long as I can get back home again, I’ve stopped being afraid. I haven’t stopped swearing but it’ll take more than a GPS to cure me of that.

      I vote toolbelt for sexy, but maps for necessity. That’s one of the top five reasons I married — directions on tap.

  4. The right place at the wrong time and we have to work on our timelines…and sometimes we’ve arrived exactly where we need to be.
    Sarah, thank you. This arrived at exactly the perfect moment in my story and my life. Phew.

  5. I have a GPS, and one of the best ways to discover small towns and off-the-beaten path places is the ‘avoid freeways’ setting. You will avoid all highways, and travel back roads of all kinds, the likes of which few folks even know exist. Small towns are the PERFECT places to gain writing inspiration and ideas.

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