Peggy Bechko: Following Your Own Writing Trail

hikerby Peggy Bechko

As a writer you hear all sorts of advice about outlines and formulas, how to do it, how not to do it. Oh, and above all, don’t follow those rabbit trails, stick to your story. Cling to your outline, don’t deviate!


All right, come on. Isn’t following rabbit trails, getting off the path, the very essence of creativity? That which will help create an exciting, twisting tale. That which makes the storytelling, the exploration fun and exciting.

Forcing yourself to ‘stay on track’ is a form of idiocy as far as I’m concerned. My first books were written entirely without any outline at all. Now, I write a simple one, but it’s meant to be for basic markers, a place to start from the center so I have a few ideas of where I’m going. They change, believe me.

But the divergent trails of discovery continually beckon and I continually change course so my story grows organically out of the foibles of the characters, the unexpected twists of events, the impact of outside forces.

You might be writing along and spot one of those fun little trails that you follow in your tale thinking it just won’t lead anywhere in particular but then, suddenly the clouds open and the sunshine pours through and that side trail lights up into the superhighway of your story. Suddenly everything you had in mind earlier changes and your story takes off in a totally new and breathtaking direction.

I’m mixing metaphors here, but seriously, could that even happen if you were faithfully sticking to the outline you started with? If you were ignoring or discarding new ideas simply because they don’t fit that original framework you began with? Rigidly holding yourself to our originally idea only because it WAS your original idea? Don’t you think if you stick inflexibly to an outline that your story might well be perceived as being artificial? Formulaic? Well, boring and predictable?

Writing a story is a journey of discovery. Serendipitous discoveries can abound if you just give yourself the chance. After all, even rabbits go somewhere. Their trails are just that – trails to somewhere.

So don’t listen to what you ‘must’ do. Find your own way. Lay out a few ground rules and markers for your story, then give yourself freedom and explore all the hidden nooks and crannies of that story. Wander about aimlessly at times until you find that golden path.

Oh, and have fun!