“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson
When I was in college, the constant construction and detours along my route became fodder for endless jokes. I’m not exaggerating when I say that, over the course of five years, every single road I took was closed at some point. Some were blocked multiple times. Roadwork. Utility work. Tree work. You name it, I encountered it. A sergeant from one of the local police stations even said he was going to attend my graduation with a bright orange construction cone so I’d know it was him, that’s how many times we called to ask about alternate routes. It unnerved me at first, a lot. I’d only gotten my license a month before starting school (a car accident three months before my sixteenth birthday, where we were rear-ended at 65mph and pushed into a traffic light pole, had freaked me out to the point of not wanting to get behind the wheel), and it was nerve-wracking enough to travel the streets I knew. When I was forced into switching it up? Let’s just say I wasn’t a happy camper. But the more I drove on those roads, the more normal they became. And the more I drove in general, the less flustered I became when I saw a familiar neon orange sign announcing a change of plans.
There may not be any visual warnings like that when it comes to writing, but the more I immerse myself in the craft, the more I realize just how many detours we end up taking. We’ve all heard that each project is a different experience, right? I think that’s the best advice I’ve ever read about this crazy writing life. No matter how many books you work on, no matter how many blank pages you start with and how many “The End”s you type, no two journeys will ever be the same. They can’t be. The characters are different, the lessons – for them and us – are different, the process is different. My first two manuscripts I wrote in less than three months apiece. It was a frenzied pace, where I was driven by this compulsion to keep going, going, going. My third one? Took quite a bit longer and required even more in edits/deletions. Writing too much became a theme of mine that continued for my next two books. I am just a wordy person when it comes to first drafts. I’ve accepted that and even embraced it. So as I work on WATERCOLORS now, and see it taking shape in a whole other way … well, I was most surprised at first.
I’m dealing with a lot of unfamiliar subjects in this story. Homelessness. Shelters. Songwriting. The recording industry. Meteorology. These are just a few of the things I spent a long time researching before even beginning to type away. I want to do justice to these topics that I feel are so important, so worth having a dialogue about, and sometimes it’s difficult, because I haven’t lived them myself. And what about my characters? I do love them. They’ve been the bread and butter of this project, so to speak. On many levels, I understand what makes them tick, what makes them sing. With Eden in particular, I’ve been able to see a lot of myself in parts of her, even though our situations have almost nothing in common. But that doesn’t make this path we’re traveling together a straight one. There are bends in this road, curves that throw me off-course and detours I’m forced into taking. For the first time … well, ever … I already have a list of scenes to change and add, and I’m only halfway through this draft. For someone whose revisions usually focus primarily on cutting, this is exciting as much as it is intimidating. And for someone who’s a perfectionist, this has been a lesson in restraint, to keep writing on instead of going back to fix everything right away. It’s also taught me something else: sometimes we can’t fully see where we came from until we know exactly where we’re heading. I needed to watch Eden grow before I could see all the aspects of where she started. I’m not gonna lie, that upset me at first. I’m used to understanding my characters from the get-go. This was especially true for Remi and Charlotte in SOT, and I think that’s what made this current book so tough for me at the beginning. Coming off a writing experience that was so joyful, so special, so infused with love and hope and light … it would’ve been hard for anything to measure up. But Eden is not Remi. She’s not Charlotte. With her, the revelations have come step-by-step, piece-by-piece. And, I understand now, that’s not a bad thing. It’s just different. It’s unique. It’s special in its own way.
We take alternate routes with each story we write. Some will be paved highways. Others will be rocky, white gravel roads like the one a GPS once took my friends and I on during our road trip in the South. But, when all is said and done, they’ll all get us to the same place. They’ll carry us to “The End” … which is really just the beginning.