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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Why Skiers and Writers Need to Scout the Route the Second Time

why you need to plan your route canstockphoto1594095 (2)The previous post left you tangled up in your skies after you narrowly escaped the disaster of falling off the cliff only to crash into the smaller disaster of the spruce trees.

This was your first draft. You pushed off too eagerly before you scouted the route. But hey, that’s what first drafts are supposed to be right?

Not exactly. Yes, a first draft will always be a rough approximation of what you hope to bring forth (aka “shitty”). And a first draft is always a journey into the unknown. But a first draft can be scouted first so you have a better idea of where you want to end up and how you want to get there. (Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream or my Entering the Flow class will show you how.)

But you’re crumbled in the snow under the trees now – you wrote a first draft that crashed in some way. The only thing to do now is untangle your skis, extricate yourself from the trees and trudge back up the hill.

Once you catch your breath at the top of the hill, you’re ready to start the next draft/next run. You’ve heard of course that you should open your mind to all possibilities. Maybe you should move sideways to see if there is an entirely new route you can take.

But that would mean much more work and take so much more time! You may as well start an entirely new novel and you want to work on this story.

So you tell yourself the first draft/first run started out okay. You can hop into the tracks you already made/keep the first chapters pretty much as they are. It’s not really necessary to plow through deep, untracked snow/write new stuff from the very beginning.

You’re certain you’ll know when you should veer right to avoid the chasm that drove you into the trees first time. You can keep the first chapter pretty much the way it is. After all, you really thought that chapter through and it has so many good elements. You’ll know when it’s time to start making substantial changes, and it’s not yet.

marked_up_draftsYou make some copyediting level changes, changing a word or phrase here and there, occasionally deleting a few lines or moving paragraphs. You get in the groove and copyediting chapter two seems to follow chapter one so naturally. Surely it’s not time to veer right yet.

One of the unrecognized hazards of writing a first draft by the seat of your pants is that once you write something, it becomes real. Writing your characters brings them to life in your imagination, and drafting scenes makes those events “really happen.”

You give scenes the same degree of reality that you give your characters. The more real the characters are to you, the more imperative the drafted events are to you, too.

Speeding through your copyediting/flying down the hill toward the chasm AGAIN, you realize just how fast and inescapable the tracks you laid down in your first run/first draft are. You lean into what should be a turn, but your skies refuse to leave the tracks/your mind refuses to shift out of copyedit mode. Your imagination insists “I can’t change this; this is the way it happened.”

The place where you thought you turn right is a blur, then it’s gone.

why you need to plan your route canstockphoto1594095 (2)The chasm looms in front of you again, forcing you to crash into the trees again. You might hit a different tree, but you’re definitely in the same vicinity you were with the first draft, which is nowhere near the alternate route you thought you could take.

If you try a third run starting from the same place, you’re going to end up in the trees even faster. If you try a third run from a different spot, you could just as easily crash into some other unscouted hazard.

Now you see why you really, really do need to scout a route.

Next post: the hazards of overdoing the scouting.

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6 Comments on “Why Skiers and Writers Need to Scout the Route the Second Time”

  1. Theresa January 29, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    I’m learning to scout, but it takes so much time! Does it get faster with practice?


    • rosannebane January 29, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

      Good for you Theresa! I think scouting can get faster with practice, but it is a lengthy process. But when you learn to relax into the scouting (or as Robert Olen Butler calls “dreamstorming” – watch for the next post “Dream the Ideal Balance of Outline and Draft”), the scouting can be one of the most enjoyable parts of writing.


      • Joel D Canfield January 31, 2013 at 10:31 am #

        I’ve spent my whole life sharpening axes to the tree-cutting takes less time, but feel so confident in my writing that I’ve always jumped from the airplane with a silkworm instead of a parachute.

        It’s finally sinking in that sharpening should be a major part of the time I spend writing, too. Scouting, for one thing.

        Reading “Around the Writer’s Block” (slowly, chewing every bite 32 times) is restructuring my brain. It’s not painful, but it’s sure work.


        • rosannebane January 31, 2013 at 11:59 am #

          I’m glad to hear the posts are resonating for you. And I’m delighted to hear AWB is helping. You’re right, it’s work, but remember it’s also PLAY!



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