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Do the Writing Canoe

March 15, 2010

Get in the fiction canoe and just go down the river. Use your paddle to guide you along the way, but don’t expect to know for sure what’s around every corner. You can have a map in hand (such as an outline) with a general idea as to what you’ll expect to encounter, but you never really know exactly what it’s going to be like until you get around to each bend in the river. Let the river show you the way. Let the story surprise even you. Let the dialogue happen naturally.

It’s a little like walking into a dark cave, maybe even without a flashlight, sometimes. Have courage. Just enter. And then you’ll see what you will see. You will find your way, even in the dark. Sometimes in writing, you can get blocked in a sense because you don’t know what you should write next. Just write. Each word, phrase or sentence will lead you to the next. You will find your way through the cave and out into the light. It’s amazing what surprises you will find when you write with a certain faith that you will know what to write when  you get there.

Back to the river. Back into the canoe. Just ride the river in your canoe and with your paddle guiding a little. The river will take you there. The story will happen naturally and it will feel natural instead of contrived. If you aren’t surprised by characters, dialogue and plot elements, then it’s quite likely that your readers won’t be either. If the story is predictable to you, it probably will be to your readers. There are many times that I have had a story in mind, even very precisely planned out, and when I get into the story canoe and started paddling down the river, there are surprises around almost every corner. There are better ideas around the bend. There are things that I never thought of before.

Let the story guide you like a river flowing naturally. Let the characters tell you who they are, like all things along the river show themselves along the way. Let the plot points and elements reveal themselves like bends and turns in the river, and like stretches of rapids and calm. It’s exciting to ride the writing river. You can’t entirely control the canoe with your little paddle, but why would you want ultimate control anyway? That would be boringly predictable. That would be stale. Keep it fresh. If I’m not interested, my readers won’t be. If I’m not interested, why would I write. It would be boring. It would be work. The writing river offers a fun ride.

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