When the writer and mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote these words, I wonder if he had attempted a novel? It would be so much easier to have the path of my novel clearly carved out for me word for word, a yellow brick road to writing success. Minus the munchkins.
Searching for just the right word, devising a clever plot, creating believable characters and genuine dialogue is time consuming work. There are those writers who claim a novel wrote itself. I dislike those writers as much as I dislike people who eat mint chocolate chip ice cream every day and stay thin. I am convinced they are actually aliens.
A clear path, like the one in the desert near my house shown above, where when I hike I can see far ahead to where the path leads, requires less thinking. Less scary, too. When I write, I always feel somewhat lost and wish someone had left at least some bread crumbs for me to follow. And if they lead to a ugly witch's house, that's okay. I think I can take the mean old hag, as well as snap off a candy cane or two.
I contradict myself. I know. I groaned when teachers made us do outlines in school BEFORE writing the paper. Remember? 1. a. b. c. and so on. Often, a sentence was required that would summarize the paper. Some teachers even made students show the outline after writing the paper. That is like living your life and then, before you die, being asked to show the outline you drafted, say when you were 13, to see if it matches what actually happened. That would be interesting to see how many people's lives turned out as they had envisioned as teenagers. Sure there might be some things that worked out as planned, but I betcha there would be a slew of surprises. Often we don't know what to do next until we get there. Same with writing.
My novel feel more like this photo I took in the Costa Rican jungle last spring. No clear path. I didn't attempt to walk through this jungle, and I often don't attempt my novel as it often feels daunting to even begin. But I bet if I had started walking in this jungle, with a lot of bug repellent slathered on me, a path would have shown itself. I would have seen rushing rivers, flocks of exotic birds in flight and lush plant life of the kind I'd never before seen. The sights! The smells! The exclamation points possibilites.
Writing a novel is the same. A lot of unexpected beautiful things can arise once I begin. It's not easy forging a path alone, and that is why so many writers give up along the trail.
There are so many books and classes and blogs and newsletters and workshops about how to write. A lot of people are making money telling other people how to write. To learn how to walk through a dense jungle, one must starting walking. Same with writing. Writing classes are beneficial, as are meeting with other writers, but to write one must sit and sit and sit alone for hours forging a path with words. For someone like myself who likes to check things off her to do list, and have a clear set of each day's purpose, meandering without a path feels often futile and foolish.
I must remember that even if I feel I'm walking in circles , like this labyrinth in Oregon that I visited, it doesn't mean I'm not making progress. Now if I was still there months later walking around in circles that would be a problem. I hope someone would step in and help me. And sometimes we do need help from our friends. I'm blessed with wise writer friends who help me edit, and also friends who listen and tell me to get moving with my life, to stop going in circles and walk a new direction, but they can't do writing or life for me. My lazy side says oh darn.
Some paths are gorgeous, and seem wide and safe, but even this one in the Oregon forest veers to the left. Just like Dorothy's yellow brick road that looked so clearly laid out for her, there were wild surprises. Dorothy met evil witches, and flying monkeys and almost took a forever sleep in a field of pretty poppies that looked deceptively safe. Just shows you that even though the yellow brick path looked clear, it was still full of pitfalls.
When I was little I used to imagine staying in bed all day long and that way nothing bad would ever happen to me. My next thought was how bored I was going to get. So I got out of bed.
"If you don't like the road you're walking, start paving another one," said my hero Dolly Parton.
What? It's not right to include a quote by the esteemed scholar Joseph Campbell in the same blog as Dolly, the singer with the blonde wigs and long finger nails? That's the beauty of no outline. I can do whatever I want. (No English teacher, either, to scold me.) And she's right. Whether in life or writing, if we need to revise, edit or start a entirely new story, it's okay. I just have to remind myself that even if I feel lost in my novel, and I make a bunch of mistakes, I just have to keep moving.
Make it up as I go along, like life, and hopefully get wiser and a better writer and a person along the way. That's all part of the adventure. I wouldn't want someone else to write the novel, or live my life for me.
I'm sure both Joseph and Dolly would agree.