Driving through fog

In a blog post yesterday, the incomparable Neil Gaiman wrote a bit about his writing process, or a part of it:

Sometimes you can look out across what you’re writing, and it’s like looking out over a landscape on a glorious, clear summer’s day. You can see every leaf on every tree, and hear the birdsong, and you know where you’ll be going on your walk. …

Sometimes it’s like driving through fog. You can’t really see where you’re going. You have just enough of the road in front of you to know that you’re probably still on the road, and if you drive slowly and keep your headlamps lowered you’ll still get where you were going.

I thought his analogy was interesting, because I’ve often used the metaphor of driving to describe my own writing process. As a pantser, when I sit down to begin a story I generally know the starting point, I usually have some notion of the end point, and I might know one or two points along the way… but I don’t really have a detailed road map. I climb in the car, point it in the right direction, try to pay attention to road signs, and trust that I’ll get there. As I’m driving, all I ever know of my route is what I can see immediately ahead of me; the rest reveals itself as I travel and draw nearer.

So the idea of the fog patches was interesting, and quite true. I came to one of these myself the other day. I’d gotten through all the scenes I’d plotted out already, and I knew a couple of scenes that would be coming soon, but not quite yet… but I didn’t know what the immediate next scene was or how to get to the coming-soon scenes.

I did know a few hundred words of the next scene, though. I typically don’t like to write a scene until I know it in full, so I’ll spend a couple of days thinking it through. It didn’t work, in this case, and after three or four days of fruitless brainstorming I decided just to go ahead and write the words I knew.

And as I wrote, I discovered the next hundred words, and then as I got to the end of those, another couple hundred after that. And then I was at the end of the scene, and actions the characters had taken in the foggy scene, spontaneously revealed as I wrote, turned out to provide the answer to the scene after and how to link to the coming-soon scene.

Like lowering my headlights and driving slowly, eyes on the ten feet of road in front of me, and coming out the other side able to see the way again.

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