“For me, writing is exploration; and most of the time,
I’m surprised where the journey takes me.”
When I lived in Toronto years ago, the subway system wasn’t as extensive as it is now, but it moved people quickly from the area of the city where we lived, north to where we wanted to go. It has since been expanded to serve more areas of the city in conjunction with other above-ground rapid transit methods. I hated the subway.
I don’t like tunnels either, but in big cities they’re often as much a part of the transit system as a subway or bridge. On Sunday we attended a special church service on the north side of Burrard Inlet… just over an hour’s drive from our home in the Fraser Valley. Getting there required travelling over multiple bridges and through a long tunnel.
At one time when entering a tunnel I would clench hands together, hold my breath, close my eyes and pray there would be no interruption to the traffic flow until we emerged on the other side and I could breathe again. I’m a little claustrophobic, and through the years I’ve found better ways to deal with the accompanying panic. Sometimes that means avoiding the provoking situation… like finding a different route; but other times it means facing the fear, taking deep breaths and focusing on the exit.
On this occasion, as we approached the exit I focused on what was to come — several miles of highway construction.
Last week we travelled this same route to reach the Horseshoe Bay Ferry for a trip to visit family and friends on Vancouver Island. On the Island, the highway didn’t bore through the mountains. It wound up and around them. I prefer it that way. I like to see my surroundings and appreciate the journey en route to the destination.
Writing can be like that, too. Sometimes we’re moving blindly through a story, not sure of the destination but willing ourselves forward, confident that eventually we’ll emerge into the light. Without claustrophobia we might not mind navigating the darkness. For me, although I’m not a plotter, a little route-planning is a good idea. It helps me avoid the panic of wondering what I’ll do if the flow of words comes to a sudden standstill. Without following a detailed map, however, it also gives me the opportunity to enjoy times of discovery, even occasional surprises, along a slightly familiar road.
How much planning, if any, do you do before embarking on your writing? Do you ever have times of panic in the middle of a manuscript? Would more preparation have helped avoid them?
“I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all.”
Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977
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