Sometimes it feels awful, not having all the answers. Being stuck, or lost, or adrift.
What if I never solve this problem? What if I never cross this wall? What if I can’t ever fix the plot or understand my characters enough to know just the right thing to say?
Guess what? We’re creating something new that didn’t exist before. That means we’re ALWAYS at the frontier of the unknown, alone without a guide.
Of course we’ll wander. If we’re going exactly where we thought we would, our readers have probably figured it out too and they’ll just be starting to wonder what’s new on TV or twitter or that other book they’re dying to read.
Now’s a perfect time to be scared by the unknown. Our smooth trail led us right to the edge of a canyon. It will take miles to get around. But look up from your shoes for a minute. There’s a waterfall over there. And a really beautiful sunrise above the red rocks. A plume of smoke from a village. Are they friendly or will they boil us in a stewpot with pungent native vegetables? Mmm, garlic and basil would be nice…
The rough draft is all about discovery, and discovery involves getting lost. Sometimes for a long time.
Just don’t get obsessed by the wandering. Remember, there’s food out there we need to find, and eventually shelter too. We do have to survive out here, we are trying to accomplish something and it’s easy to use the wandering as an excuse not to.
Write while you wander. Bad dialogue. Strange plot. Odd characters. Maybe you’ll hit an impassable mountain and have to go all the way back to the canyon and try south instead. But maybe you’ll find an intriguingly beautiful stone or a useful companion along the way. One who steals your food but knows how to save you from Grizzly Bears.
Any strange and wonderful book, from Michael Chabon’s Summerland to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, only got there because their authors spent so many sunny afternoons and harrowing midnights wandering in thrall on blank and ink-stained maps.
For years, I feared being lost, which is not to say that I won’t always find it a little terrifying.
Writers are explorers, which is why most writers write and all readers read.
If you get lost, you’re doing it right.
(Originally posted Feb 6, 2009 http://redroom.com/member/tad-kershner/blog/on-the-frontier)