“While working on each sentence, he has no idea what the next sentence is going to be, much less the next chapter or the end of the book. All thoughts of where he is going or where he has been are banished.” — How to Write Like Tom Robbins, by Michael Dare
When I learned this about best-selling author Tom Robbins, it gave me something to aspire to, and it made me realize how much traveling and writing have in common: no matter what, you really have no idea where you’re going.
There’s a funny thing about traveling. So often, you might have a Grand Plan… or at least people think you do. Or you think you do. Either way, sooner or later a Grand Plan starts looking less and less grand. You’ve encountered so much more, have been thrilled by so many things you never could have planned for—and they certainly weren’t mentioned in the guidebook.
When it comes to what happens next, it can be hard to say, “I have no idea.” But it’s also the most thrilling thing of all to say. Want to know if you really feel alive? Think of something you’re doing—and step back, really look at it, and acknowledge the truth of truths:
“What’s next?” Then don’t shrug. Or um or any crap like that. Just go straight to “I have no idea.”
Bonus points if you can smile and add, “But I’m excited as hell to find out.”
As with traveling, so too with working on stories. Every time I pick up a story, I have no idea what’s going to happen. Oh, I may have a sort of rough thought. Sort of like saying, “Well, I’m going on a round-the-world trip, leaving from Oregon and going west through Australia and Asia.” That’s a general idea. But the day-to-day, the moment-by-moment? Dunno.
My characters surprise me with every word. Connections I never could’ve planned blossom before my eyes. Plots take a twist that never would have occurred to me—until I was in the thick of the story. Then, there it was, and it was exactly what the story needed to be.
It’s scary at times. And it can play hell with doing some serious rewriting later. But just as difficulties on a trip all too often are well worth it for what comes next, so too is the joy of writing without a full-on map.
I have no idea what all will happen in the story I’m working on.
But I’m excited as hell to find out.