Off-Road, U-Turns, and Missed Exits

(NaNoWriMo cheerleading post for November 7)

You’re rolling out the word count, writing like a steam train, and one of your characters, instead of saying, “Run for it!” says, “Oh!  Stop!  Rescue that porcupine!” or “Put some ointment on that, quick!”

Or you are placidly describing a country scene with hay bales and a smell of fresh-cut grass, and out from behind one of the bales emerges a Sasquatch covered in manure, bearing a meat hook and a burning grudge.

Or maybe not.  Maybe you have an orderly mind.

Many of us, though, find that writing is not a straight highway.  It’s more like a maze navigated with an old-fashioned map while someone in the back seat shouts conflicting instructions.  Strangers keep opening your door, dragging you out, and taking over the wheel.

Depending on your temperament, this can be disturbing or hilarious.  My advice?  Roll with it.

Choose your own adventure.

As Yogi Berra  said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And though many people mis-read Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” to mean he made a deliberate choice to take the untrodden path, actually the roads were worn “about the same.”

Half the fun of writing is the surprise of creation.  So when a character seems to be taking over and running the show, roll with the change.    Ask yourself, “How could this work?  What’s going on?  What happens next?”

When you discover that the body in the library was actually that of the protagonist and not the mysterious stranger after all, ask yourself how you’re going to handle it, and then explore the story.  When the month is over, you can always remove that annoying zombie real estate agent or that incongruous and passionate bakery love scene.

The first time I did NaNoWriMo, I began with my protagonist discovering a mysterious egg in her kitchen.  I asked myself, How did that get there?  What’s inside? As I answered those questions, I discovered a story about death, loss, and the craziness of middle school.  I wanted to know how it ended, so I kept writing.*

Your mileage may vary.  But I hereby give you permission to enjoy that unexpected side trip.

(If you have any requests for blog posts about your NaNoWriMo journey, please comment below.  I’m here to be your cheerleader, and I have my pom-poms ready.)

Tomorrow:  You like it?  Steal it.


  • About half way through I wrote a plot outline.

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