I started my career writing about what I called "non-itinerary based travel." That means trips with no plans, no agenda. My personal travel technique was all instinct -- following my nose, asking questions, making a hash of things and living to tell the tale.This wasn't just my favorite way to see the world, it was my favorite way to live. No plans, no reservations, just meeting life head on.
As much as I hate to admit it, life has changed since those days. With age has come a certain... mellowing. There's also a little more desire for safety and security. Over the past five years, I've spent plenty of nights flooded by the sort of self-induced anxiety that I used to scoff at:
- Where is my career going?
- Where is this book going?
- When will I ever pay off my grad school debt?
- What will the profession of "writer" look like when I'm seventy?
In short, I've needed a plan. An agenda. An itinerary. Sometimes, it's come in useful:
- I have an agent who helps me plan a career.
- I have an editor who helps me shape my stories.
- I have a billing plan that deducts loan payments from my paycheck.
Other times no amount of planning can help:
- I have no idea what it will mean to be a writer in 33 years (though I'll still be making those loan payments).
But lately, through a massive convergence of factors, I've also had to give up having a plan. At least a solid one.
- This week, the sequel to my first novel is due. I've never written a sequel before.
- Next week, I'm moving into a home which I'll be part owner of. I've never owned a home before.
- July 22, I'm getting married. I've never been married before.
- August 1, I have a book launch. I've never had a book launch before.
- September 7, I go on book tour. I've never gone on book tour before.
- October 23, I have a baby due. I've never been a dad before.
That's a lot. I'm exhausted just writing it all. You can't plan for all those things at once. It's like a cat, that keeps slipping away every time you think you have your arms around it. My current existence is strewn with forgotten details, like breadcrumbs, and the only light by which I'll ever see them will be shone after the fact. As in, "Oh no! I forgot to hire a wedding DJ!" -- spoken mid-wedding.
As I type this post, I'm overwhelmed. And tired. And pushed to the max. But I'll tell you this: I've also remembered how freaking invigorating it is to not know the whole itinerary. Uncertainty carries with it a special thrill.
So what does this all have to do with craft? Last week, I said to my girlfriend, "I guess I should have outlined every beat of this sequel beforehand. That's what a smart writer would have done."
But if writing is about finding joy, I have to admit that my joy has never come through having a rigid outline. I like improvisation and fluidity. I wrote my novel The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo! without an outline and I wrote the sequel much the same way. Instead, I surprised myself on every page and -- more importantly -- the characters surprised me. The sequel features a major mistake by one of the protagonists, made out of vanity. I don't know if it ever would've happened had I outlined.
Writing, as we all know, contains multitudes. There are a million ways to write and if they work, they work. But my recent tsunami of dramatic life changes has reminded me that sometimes not knowing exactly what's coming next is fun for me. And I want writing to feel fun.
At the moment, the current mantra in writing and life is found in this quote by E.L. Doctorow:
“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."
Editor's Note: On his Twitter bio, Stephen Bramucci describes himself as Editor + vagabond-at-large for Uproxx Life (Travel, Food, Adventure). Lover of derring do. His first novel, The Danger Gang and the Pirates of Borneo is out on August 1st. You can visit his new website HERE