“Luck has a way of evaporating when you lean on it.”
-Brandon Mull, Keys to the Demon Prison
As a fresh Driver’s Ed graduate, I remember the first time my dad asked me to take him on a drive.
Awesome! At last, I could show off my driving skills—to my dad—kind of a big deal. Mostly because the last time I’d been allowed to drive (age 10) I’d almost wrecked the tractor. But you can’t hold that against me, the steering wheel came off. Not my fault—mostly. In any case, I’d aced my driver’s test. I had this.
I got behind the wheel and held my hand out for the keys.
He turned in his seat, looked me in the eye and asked, “Do you know where you’re going?”
“Aren’t we just going up town?” Silly question, he’s the one that asked if I wanted to drive him to town. He couldn’t have forgotten already, right?
I shot my hand out, palm up, like a kid waiting for a congratulatory gumball.
He didn’t budge, instead, he asked, “Do you know which route you’re going to take?”
“Of course. I . . .” I paused, there were options. North? South? Each led to town, and each route led to more choices. Okay, so he had a point. After a moment’s thought, I recited my chosen plan.
My reward: A set of keys in my outstretched hand.
As we headed to town, (I picked the North road) he explained that no matter what, know where you’re going and plan your route—before you start the car.
It’s that advice that I find myself revisiting on a regular basis.
Getting married? Determine the destination. Know your route.
Want financial freedom? Determine the destination. Know your route.
Plan to write a book? Determine the destination. Know your route.
Now I’m not knocking any seat-of-your-pants writers. I enjoy my own fair bit of pantsing (that sounded better in my head), and I absolutely love the thrill of discovery in a free write.
But stop a moment and ask yourself, where is all that free-writing going? Are you on a road to nowhere? Idling along a nonexistent path in the cow pasture? Watch it, that’s a cowpie just waiting to happen. Oh, sh—splat.
It’s only a suggestion, but don’t knock it until you try it: Before you start that engine, before you put that pen to paper, those fingertips to keyboard . . . take some advice that has served me well: Determine your destination. Know your route.
It’s a destination that gives you purpose.
It’s a route that gives you direction.
Stop spinning your wheels. Get off that road to nowhere. Determine where you want to be at the end.
-What’s the plan for the end?
-How am I going to get there?
p.s. And if you find yourself up a road without a steering wheel, (listen up you panster’s) you’ll at least know you had a plan. After all, you can’t plan for everything—even if you ace every test.
“I’d like to emphasize that when a reader finishes a great novel, he will immediately begin looking for another. If someone loves your book, it increases the chance that he or she will look at mine. So there is no competition between writers. Another writer’s success helps build a larger readership for all of us.”
“Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.”
-Brandon Mull, Fablehaven
Ah, at last, bedtime. Deep breath in . . .
Fill those lungs, now breathe out . . .
Pace it out, slower . . .
I am going slower. How come you aren’t sleeping?
Give me a few minutes. Now breathe . . .
I don’t think this is working very well for you.
Is too. Be quiet.
What if I can’t go to sleep, what if my ideas won’t let me?
Then we’ll just get out the virtual white board.
Sure. Just put everything you think of on the board.
Exactly. Now erase it right away.
But that was a good idea up there.
Oh really, what was it?
Well, it’s all about this boy and he’s all alone except for his dog . . .
(a long while later)
I can’t believe you tricked me like that. Back to the board. No cheating.
I was just—
I want nothing but a mind numbing expanse of white up there.
But I what if I want a story? Just one more story?
Do you realize how late it is?
But I have this idea that if you take that boy and add in a girl, a kind of scary girl . . .
(an even longer while later)
What are we doing still awake? What were you thinking? That’s it, you were thinking. No more thinking.
Can I have a drink of water?
Don’t try to distract me.
But what if I have to go to the bathroom?
You should have thought of that earlier.
But I think—
That’s just it, bedtime is for dreaming, not thinking. You can think in the morning.
No more buts.
You need your sleep.
But, oops. I mean pretty please, with sugar on top?
Erase. Erase. Erase.
If you don’t write it on that notepad on our nightstand, my whole idea will disappear. Forever.
White. Peace. Nothingness. White. Peace. Nothingness. White, Pea . . .
Oh alright. If I write it will you go to sleep?
Cross my heart.
(Light on. Scribble, scribble, scribble. Light off.)
You know, if that girl and that boy had super powers, you know, if they could fly–
Time to wake up! Hurry up sleepyhead, now we can think AND write!
Do you still want to be a writer?
I know I doubt my sanity. I never had to question it before I allowed the writer brain out. Now, well I don’t want to think too hard about it.
Tell me, does it ever go away? I mean, once the book is done? Or do you just move on to more books, more thoughts, more sleepless nights spent in fruitless argument with yourself?
Please, at least tell me I am not alone.