Make it up as we go along


A month ago I returned from a 105-day trip that started in Istanbul and finished in Paris. ‘Which way will you go?’ many people asked before we left.

‘No idea,’ my partner and I replied. ‘We’ll make it up as we go along.’ Quite honestly we had only a tiny clue where we might go. I now know just how tiny a clue by the fact that we missed half a dozen places or more on our (vague) wish list.

It’s occurred to me that that missing Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia, as well as the (apparently) great cities of Prague and Budapest, could be likened to ‘killing your darlings’ during a writing project. We dearly wanted to experience these places, but they dropped off the list when our decisions took us a different way. Instead, we discovered the Greek Islands and Athens, Venice and The Dolomites and many incredible places and people in between.

Had we booked a tour, we would have known where we were going for sure. Each day we would’ve woken at a certain time and, to some extent, known what to expect. I think the writing equivalent here is plotting the first draft of your novel, short story or essay so extremely that you can’t divert, even if the story desperately needs you to.

There’s no doubt that planning can save you time. But what’s a few hours, days or weeks in the life of a long-form non-fiction project when exploring an unexpected path (read character trait, plot point or crisp theme) may improve the story? And yet it’s tiring making dozens of decisions every single day in a foreign country when you don’t speak the language. But like travellers, isn’t that what writers do? For me, this is where the joy lies – exploring the unknown and discovering people and places, stories and characters that you never knew existed.

It’s your path to travel – your story to choose. People can suggest ways to go or possible twists in the road but only authors – you – can select what’s right for your story at any given time.

May your words pour onto the page,