Thursday, June 19, 2014

You’re Not Lost; You’re Just Not Where You Want to Be

A colleague and I drove to Chicago for a Saturday seminar, in a rental car, before the days of common GPS use. I’ll call her “Jane,” because that’s not her real name and she won’t want you talking to her about this. 

Jane was driving and I was trying to navigate with a fold-out map. As we made our way to our hotel, which was right in the heart of the city, we ended up in a lane that forced us to eventually turn north onto Lake Shore Drive. It was Friday, during rush hour. Do you know how fast Chicagoans move those cars on Lake Shore Drive?

“We’re lost!” Jane said as she gripped the steering wheel for dear life. I didn’t blame her one bit for that outburst, but with all the confidence I could muster, I shot back, “No, we’re not! I can see where we are and where we want to be on this map. We aren’t lost; we just aren’t where we want to be.” 

I’ll skip the part where Jane threatened to abandon the car somewhere and hail a cab, but she did agree to make the next left turn possible for us to get back onto south Michigan Avenue. Thanks to the cab driver who gave us directions as we sat next to him in completely stalled, bumper-to-bumper traffic, we finally inched our way to our hotel. 

Sometimes we aren’t where we want to be and we’re feeling lost. We have a plan, we’ve been heading toward our goal, and then somehow . . . bam. But are we really lost, or just not where we want to be?

In writing, we often map out how to get an idea into the form it needs to be: a saleable article, a contest-worthy poem, publishable fiction, what the client asked for . . . But no matter how we have mapped the journey, sometimes we feel we’re no longer in control, about to fail. Here are three basics, and they are good for any kind of project, actually:

·         Don’t give in to any urge to abandon the project. Being off-track may feel like being lost, but don’t give up—at least not yet. Keep going if you really want to get there.

·        Recalculate. It’s not too late to look closely at your goal and, even from “way out on Lake Shore Drive,” make adjustments to get going in the right direction. Do it before you end up in Wisconsin. Maybe your book idea for a novel will actually make a better novella, but you can still live out your dream to write fiction with that idea. 

·         Seek more information. Even if you are going in the right direction, something important could be missing—like our hotel's street off Michigan Avenue not being on the map at all or a GPS that has become confused by too many wrong turns. Ask someone who can help—an editor, a mentor, a professional who blogs, your client . . . even a cab driver if he knows what he’s talking about. 

For readers, have you ever read a book where it seems obvious that the author got off-track somewhere along the way and never really got to their goal?

For writers, have you ever felt lost in the writing process? What did you do to get back on track?

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