by Lisa Bullard
Using an “I’ll just see where the road takes me” approach has led me on all sorts of adventures. But it’s also meant I’ve arrived at midnight and discovered every hotel room in town is rented to lumberjacks.
I still don’t plan ahead for lumberjack inﬂuxes — I ﬁgure one of those per lifetime is probably my quota — but that experience has forced me to rethink my approach a bit.
I’ve learned the same thing about writing road trips. My earlier, shorter projects didn’t travel enough distance to require planning ahead. I always had a ﬁnal destination in mind (the ending of a story is clear to me early in the process). But I didn’t worry over the how-to-get-there details. A few unexpected detours just meant more fun.
It was different when I began drafting a novel. I jumped in with my usual spontaneous approach, steering towards the ending but exploring all the intriguing side roads. Then my character dug in his heels and refused to move forward. I suddenly recognized what a vast expanse stretched between the beginning and the ending, and I completely stalled out.
I reluctantly recognized it was time to plot my route. As soon as I had that outline in place, I began writing again at full speed. I’m not a full outline convert, but I now see that a road map can be an important writing tool.
Some young writers are natural outliners. Others are like me, dragged to it only by necessity. You can help these “outline resistant” students develop their outlining skills. For example, you can work together as a class to outline a published story. Or you can outline a “typical” human life or a calendar year for practice.
Sometimes even the most spontaneous writer needs to stop and plot their route in order to make forward progress.