Outside My Comfort Zone

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

  • L. Doctorow

I’ve always enjoyed Doctorow’s simile, but up until recently, I never thought it applied to me. When it comes to plotting my novels, I’ve been a Planner with a capital “P.” Once I’ve got a premise and have done extensive work on developing my characters, I launch into mapping out what’s going to happen, scene-by-scene. Never mind that things invariably change along the way. There’s something reassuring about having that roadmap.

Not this time. For my new work-in-progress about a teenager whose mother disappears with no forewarning or explanation, I plunged into writing after working on my characters. I have a general idea about the arc of the story and its resolution, but not a huge number of pre-planned specifics between the beginning and the ending.

It’s a little scary. And this go-round, I’m trying something else I’ve never done before, weaving in a second story about another character two decades earlier who will turn out to be key to the mom’s disappearance.

Some mornings, I get almost nothing done, unless you count staring at my computer screen as an activity. Over lunch, I lament to my husband that I don’t know what I’m doing, other than moving extremely SLOWLY. He says a few comforting words like, “Didn’t you say that about your third novel, and it came out all right?”

“Maybe,” I say doubtfully, “but this is worse.”

And then, the strangest thing happens. After I’ve accepted it’s just going to be a slow writing day, the words trickle out. And keep coming.

It’s a mystery to me how creating a story works. And I write mysteries. Mostly I’ve decided I just have to trust the process, even though my process this go-round feels way out of my comfort zone. Not an easy thing for a lifetime super-planner!


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