Go wandering… Get lost a little…

Are you ready to lose the map?

I love road trips. Always have. It started when I was a babe in my mother’s arms and the minute the vehicle started I was in “happy-land”. I love road trips with no clear destination in mind. You know, those times when you get in the vehicle and just drive following the road as your only map. Travelling fuels my sense of adventure, exploration and discovering the great unknown. The best adventures don’t usually happen on the main highway. They usually happen when you take that pothole-ridden abandoned side-road. There’s a sense of risk maybe even danger. Your adrenaline is fizzing through your bloodstream. Anything can happen. It might not all be good but it will be an adventure.

So what’s road trips got to do with this post. Everything. To get very profound, life is a road trip: unpredictable, risky, mapless, pitstops unknown, destination murky and a complete adventure. But this is not a post on the profound meaning of life. That is for another day. This is a post about writing, story, creativity and inspiration.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.

– Robert Frost

Writing both as a vocation and the act of writing individual stories is a lot like a road trip. As a writer, words are my vehicle and inspiration is my driver and gritting-your-teeth-clenching-your-knuckles persistence is the fuel that makes this trip possible. With writing even if I start with a map, I usually tend to veer off the main road and take that tempting side-road. Sometimes these side-roads turn out to be dead ends or cliff tops but the beauty of a vehicle is that it reverses as well so I can always turn back. But more often than not these side-roads tend to give me nuggets of pure gold. They give me the little twist in the tail in my plot, they work out that ugly knot you may have written yourself into and sometimes they change your whole plot into something even better.

I am on just such an adventure right now with my two WIPs. One of them is in the final drafting stage and the other is new and shiny and keeps on catching my eye. I had a map with the first WIP, all neatly outlined. But something was not working, some magic was missing. So I figured the map was holding me back. I threw the map away, refueled with some gritty persistence and took the pitted side road. I am about 2/3 way through edits and the characters are driving it. I stopped thinking and directing so much and just let them take the wheel. It does mean that Book 2 is going to change a little from the original map but that is the beauty of a side-road: Change. When you edit a draft, you need to tear it apart, change it up, stretch it thin and then do it again. You have to get brutal with your plot and you have to get brutal with your ego. You have to buckle up and just keep going, hold on through the rocky patches and speed wobbles but stay in the driver’s seat.

As for my new and shiny WIP, this one is going to be a road-trip completely off the map and off the highway. My creative synapses are sparking off major electric sparks of excitement. The story is gritty, the characters are raw and I am ready for this road trip. I am also ready for a new adventure. I do love the final draft WIP but I know what happens on that road trip, I have seen the destination in the distance. This new WIP is a trip into the unknown but so far the landscape is stripped down to that raw and natural beauty you find in a vast desert where the horizon seems endless. It is just the beginning of this story’s road trip and I have already thrown the map away. I am ready for the adventures these characters are going to take me on. My adrenaline is buzzing.

So what about you?

Do you love road trips?

Are you one of those people who has to have a map and navigator?

Are you ready to lose the map and get lost?

Have you ever found you had to change up the whole plot of your story, you had to get muddled to get found?

Navigating the Mind of a Storyteller

Picture this scene. You are lying in bed trying to get to sleep. You just start falling into the land of zzz’s and BOING! An idea has popped into your mind. It is the voice of a character. Just as you try to turn over and fall back asleep, it is already 4am and you have had about 5 minutes of sleep, a picture of the next scene in your WIP pops into your head. The first voice of the character you heard has nothing to do with your current story. Which thread of thought do you follow down the winding road of imagination? The new one or the current one? But what if you want to follow both? How do you choose? None of these thoughts are even that cohesive, just snippets that are invading your sleep-deprived mind. It is not as if they make any sense.

You need a Mind-Map.

Mind-mapping is one of my favourite ways to work through all those detours in the road to a great story. It is the law of Imagination that just when you are working on your current story, a brilliant idea or three hit you simultaneously. This is when I pull out my mind-map.

If you have never mind-mapped before, it is like note-taking but in a more visual form than notes. It is notes in picture form. Mind-mapping notes are perfect for those barely cohesive thoughts that you know will lead you down some wondrous path but first you have to connect all the dots. So out comes a mind-map.

Mind Maps just Zing for me. I am not a big note taker. Even at school, I detested pages and pages of notes. Instead I mind-mapped all my subjects. With mind-mapping you can zone out the unimportant and the fluffy, but you can zoom in on the essentials. You have to use bright colours. I have a pencil-case of coloured markers and highlighters specifically for mind-mapping. The great thing about mind-mapping a story is that you can put the mind-map in a place where you can always see it and that way always have a clear view of your story’s plot.

I use Mind-Maps to map my character profiles, my plot, the story arc, the back story, the setting. You get the drift? You can mind-map anything. It does not take long and you can fit what you might take over 10 pages of written notes to put into one mind-map.

The great thing about a mind-map is that it can also navigate you through the tricky parts in your WIP. If you are starting to feel lost in the story and need to figure out whether you have taken a wrong detour or just a more scenic route, you can refer back to your mind-map. It works the same way a road map does when you are driving. One look down at it is all it takes to steer you back onto the right road and miss the potholes.

I use an art-poster pad for my mind-maps. That way they all stay together. I can also keep it next to my bed so that I can jot down that stray thought (path) into a current or a new mind-map at 3am in the morning. Strangely enough that is the most active time in my imagination for new stories to germinate. But you could use any pad of paper or even a notebook for mind-maps. I do advise using unlined paper though.

I love my software so you know that I have some digital software for mind-maps to mention too. These are the top three I prefer to use:

FreeMind – An open source free download for that will work on any operation system whether you use apple, windows or any other OS. This is one of the simplest software programs to use. There is barely any learning curve and it is perfect for you if you are not big on complicated software with all the frills and whistles. This will do the job.

Mind-Node – A mac download that is available both online or in the Apple App store. There is both a free and a pro (paid) version. There is also a touch version that is downloadable for either your iPod touch or your iPad. The one drawback of this is that it is only available to mac users. Sorry pc folks.

Mind-Meister – A free or a paid download that you can sync through your pc/mac, your laptop/notebook, your iPod touch, your iPad and even your twitter/Facebook. The great thing with Mind-meister is that like Dropbox it is a secure online storage. You can also, like Dropbox, share and collaborate on mind-maps with other people though an online account. This one is a new favourite of mine.

Try Mind-Mapping. Whether you try the old-fashioned pen and paper way – make sure you have multiple coloured markers for this, it only adds to the fun – or one of the digital software, you will look at plotting in a whole new light. For those pantsters who cannot imagine taking copious notes this might be the perfect introduction to a very effective way to plot and still give you that freedom of just letting the imagination roam. Your imagination can still roam, you can just mark down the highlights in bright colours so that you don’t lose those wanderings. You could even draw pictures if that is the way you prefer to think. For plotters, you will love the new way to plot because you get to indulge in plotting that story arc or character profile but taking less time to do it.

Try Mind-Mapping out and let me know whether you had fun.

It might just revolutionize your next story. 

What’s your favourite way to make sense of those random 3am imaginings? Do you mind-map already? Are you a note-taker/note-scrawler? Do you use a dictaphone/recorder to tape your thoughts. Share with me how you make sense of those 3am thoughts.