Monday, June 21, 2010

Road Trip!

By the time you read this, my daughters and I should be well into the last leg of The Great 2010 Carey Family Vacation. This 19-day, 4,000-mile extravaganza took us through seven states, two time zones, and involved 65+ highway hours.

It's a good thing I like to drive.

In order to fit in all of the aunties, uncles, grandmas, grandpas, cousins, and friends, while staying safe and sane with two pre-teen passengers, I developed a fairly detailed driving schedule. Weeks before leaving, I had explored routes, hotels, fuel stops, and even rest areas, and had everything plugged into Carly, our little GPS.

One relative, when I related my plans, asked, "Don't you like to be spontaneous when you travel?"

And the answer is, yes, I do like to be spontaneous. I love taking new roads and finding out where they go. I like taking a different route just so I know what is there. But a trip of this magnitude doesn't work well with seat-of-the-pants planning.

My time is limited, as is the patience of my kids, the fuel in my tank, and the capacity of everyone's bladders. Having a thorough plan can make the difference between filling up regularly with inexpensive gas or paying an extra thirty cents a gallon in desperation.

It also prevents searching for a sagebrush large enough to use as an outhouse.

When I first started writing Bumpy Landings, my writing was very much seat-of-the-pants. I had no real plan other than a general idea where I wanted the story to go. I wrote on it for years and years, exploring different story possibilities, running into dead ends, and basically letting the story have a life of it's own. And it's a wonder that it actually arrived anywhere.

I've since learned that writing a novel is a lot like a long, involved road trip. With a van full of unruly characters who don't necessarily want to do what they're supposed to. It really is best to have a plan, and the more detailed, the better.

However, that doesn't mean I'm against letting the story have a life of its own.

A character might want to explore a tangential story line, or a pint-sized passenger might need an unscheduled pit stop. Just because the plan is there doesn't mean it can't be changed. I find I'm actually more likely to make exceptions when I have a solid plan, because I have a good idea of what the consequences of such changes will be.

Don't get me wrong - I still love doing exploratory writing, with no plan in place. I think it's both fun and educational. But just like the short Sunday drives I take around the county, I tend to limit seat of the pants writing to short little writing exercises that are simply there for my own enjoyment.

For my long trips, and my serious writing, I like to have a plan.