Lost in Plot

June 30, 2010

Progress on Project W has slowed. Slowed to a crawl. I’m wincing even thinking about it. Part of this is because I’m wiped at the end of work every day. I’m out of the house by 7:35 am, back late, and during the eight hours I’m on my feet, I have to be “on” and engaging and energetic the entire time.

Lots of people who write have it worse, though. And this happens every summer; once I get used to it again and rebuild my stamina, I’ll be fine. No, most of my pace problems have to do with the fact that I am lost in the woods without a map.

Project W is quite possibly the least-outlined project I’ve ever done. Normally I have what I call a “roadmap.” There’s the beginning, the end, and enough “landmarks” (plot points) along the way to keep me on track. Structure and flexibility at once. With Project W, I knew the beginning, and I know the end. It’s the middle that’s causing me grief.

Sometimes writing a novel feels like playing a symphony by yourself. So many themes, colours, threads to balance and blend. You have to hit them all just the right amount, making sure they play off each other right, but without indulging or neglecting any one aspect too much.   And certain elements are most effective at certain times. For instance: when is it best, dramatically and logically, for R to put certain puzzle pieces together? If A’s vulnerabilities come out here, is that going to work best for the story, considering the mood before and after?  

My roadmaps helped with all that. It’s not a perfect method (definitely not perfect), but it always worked for me.

Until Project W.

This is the novel which has refused to be formally plotted. Every time I sit down to thrash out a solid outline, my ideas turn to smoke, the characters clam up. Yet during an actual writing session, whatever happens next unspools itself and just kind of happens. Unfortunately, I can only “see” less than a thousand words in advance. For someone who’s a wee bit neurotic and adores planning, this is very disturbing. It’s like when I can’t find my “cereal” spoon. I can still eat breakfast, but it feels weird and unsettling.

At least I have the ending firmly fixed in mind. But see, because it’s the one landmark I have, I feel like I’m rushing towards it. I really want Project W to be a saleable length, and 50,000 words isn’t going to cut it.


There’s a saying I think is appropriate. “Driving at night, you might not be able to see beyond your headlights, but you can make the whole journey that way.” Something like that. Anyone made the journey without their map, compass, and GPS? Care to tell about it?

I’ll throw in another quotation, because I like it:

“At night, the sky is endless.”

Cheers, guys,



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