The Map Is Not The Territory

Sashala / Foter

Yesterday was that day that I dread, that day that comes every time I write a book. No, it’s not the day copyedits land with a thump, not release day, not even the day I figure out the whole thing’s crap and my career will tank if I publish it. (Yes, this happens every stinking time.)

It’s the day I have to throw out even the vague roadmap I had in my head for the current book and strike out into the unknown.

I’ve been a pantser pretty much my whole writing life. The story has its own shape, and soon enough I begin excavating it rather than building it. But there comes a tipping point in every book where I am thrown into some version of the Outer Darkness. The vague feeling of this is what happens next evaporates, and I’m left groping in the dark with a plug in my hand, feeling around for an outlet. I know I’ll eventually get there–I have no choice, after all, and I know where the arc of each story ends. But that’s not a lot of help in the dark, hearing things slither around.

After doing this so many times (when someone asks “How many books have you written?” now, I just say, “After 30 I stopped counting…”) I am reasonably certain that I will eventually find the outlet, and in far less time than I think. Still, it is frightening to strike out into the unknown. The submission to the process is a scary, scary thing. Trusting the work is like letting go and trusting that something will be there to arrest your fall, and not in a way that causes severe deceleration trauma. Still, every other time, it’s worked out fine.

Or reasonably fine.

This is, incidentally, why I don’t outline more than a vaguely “I think this might happen, and this might be cool.” Why waste the time and effort when I know the map is going to become damn near useless a halfway through? I know there are some writers who have no trouble sticking to an outline, or using it like monkeybars to get across the alligator pit, but I’m just not one of them. I often wonder, though, if that way has its own pitfalls and stressors.

Anyway, I ran five miles this morning on a new route. I’ve nibbled a blood orange and some trail mix, and have a full glass of water with a little lime juice in it. Ennio Morricone is playing softly, and the dog and cat are both asleep.

Time to crawl around in the dark. Wish me luck.

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Colleen Champagne
Colleen Champagne

Holler if you need a flashlight. I am sure we can rig something up.


using it like monkeybars to get across the alligator pit

its the snappers that will get you if you dont watch out…