Currently working on: Kicking this nasty cold
Mood: Disgustingly congested
XY and I hike and camp in the summer, often through Eastern Oregon and over and down into Idaho and Nevada, so I was saddened to read about a couple lost after traveling in the area. The wife was recovered alive this weekend after seven weeks missing, having survived on creek water and trail mix; the husband tried to walk out for help and has not yet been found. It’s rugged country, much of it still snowbound this time of year.
According to some reports, the couple had been following some scenic route with the help of a GPS when they became trapped in a ravine.
Which made me think about my writing.
I’m a plotter. Evidence at right. I like tools to help me find my way, whether that’s a GPS or a scene-by-scene beat sheet. When the tools are working, everything can be wonderful, each step proceeding accordingly and to plan, miles/pages whirling by under the feet/fingers.
But when it doesn’t work…
Hopefully you packed extra trail mix.
On Saturday, I drove up to the Seattle area for a romance reader event. (By the way, if you live between the Covington WA Library and Portland Oregon and want a signed copy of VOWED IN SHADOWS, check your local Barnes & Noble; I probably signed it.) For the three-hour interstate drive, I had the following:
- Turkey croissant with cheese
- Apple (with knife; always have a knife)
- His Bakery chocolate chip cookie
- Trader Joe’s chocolate chip cookies (just in case)
- Trader Joe’s gluten-free ginger snaps (for gluten free just in case)
- Gardettos (garlic to keep vampires away)
- Pringles (because vampires aren’t real)
- York peppermint patties (because garlic IS real)
- Dark chocolate M&Ms
- Organic Valley chocolate milk
XY asked if I was EVER coming back. [Author's note: I don't usually eat this trashy. Special occasion only.] While I didn’t intend to become stranded on the side of the interstate for seven weeks, you just never know. I find the same is true of my writing: I never intend to become stranded after I fill out all my plot sheets, but it’s best to have a contingency plan.
I don’t know how the lost woman survived for seven weeks, not knowing what would happen to her, still not knowing what happened to her husband. Maybe she’ll write a book someday. But here’s a little bit about what I’ve learned when I’m lost in my writing, and not in a good way:
Don’t get more lost.
Lost people do walk in circles. Actual scientific studies found that, devoid of locational cues (i.e. blindfolded), walkers will end up going in circles less than 100 feet in diameter.
When I don’t know where I’m going with my story, my writing can become equally cramped and pointless. It’s better for me to stop, orient to my last known position in the story, and then make a new plan before moving forward.
Send up a flare
Sometimes I get so lost in my own head, I just can’t see a way out. I need help. Call the Coast Guard! And make sure the Navy SEAL is hot! (Aren’t they all?) Also, bring more chocolate.
My writer version of a distress beacon/sat phone is a brainstorming session with other writers. A lot of times, I don’t even need them to answer me, really, I just need to talk through the path and lay it out for my own mind’s eye.
Letting someone else know where you are going to be and when you are expected back is always good advice when headed into wild country. I think the same applies to writing; having someone else know what I’m trying to accomplish — with deadline included — helps keep me on track. And they can come calling for me if I haven’t been heard from for awhile.
Use your skills and your senses
There have been several stories in the past few years about unprepared people following their GPS units into trouble. Usually, the trouble starts with nice spring weather that degenerates back into winter as they blunder higher and farther. Sadly in these stories, it seems even the sight of multiple feet of snow doesn’t alert them to trouble. Having all the right tools can’t always keep you safe. Worse, sometimes the tools — whether is GPSs, seat heaters and cell phones or GMC, turning points and high concept — add a false sense of safety.
For example, I’ve learned to smell the snow of the freeze-out that usually hits me in Chapter 7. Even when I plot, Chapter 7 is when I hit my “I’m bored of this story, I see a shiny new idea over there” wall. The story could end right there if I’m not careful.
The adventure in the wilderness of the story is worth a lot of risks, I think. Not foolish risks, of course. Being prepared only makes sense. There will be plenty of unknowns to keep me busy even if I plot every step.
I feel for that lost couple. You don’t usually hear a lot of follow-up to the stories of the lost. Getting found (or not) often seems to be the end of it. For the writer, who will be going out again and again, I always want to know what could be next.
What happens next? I guess that IS the heart of storytelling.
Have you ever been lost, in real life or story life? What did you do?