Go For a Walk, Or How to be Alone With One’s Thoughts

So, I’m making good progress on my novel. Or, well, good progress for me. I’ve gotten five pretty good chapters under my belt, and if my critique partners are to be trusted, it has some promise.

I’m working without an outline, though, which is scary and also probably a big reason why it’s moving so slowly (a chapter a month).  This is the way it’s got to be for me, though. I just can’t write an outline.

A funny thing happened on Monday, though. I decided I was going to at least attempt an outline, and to put my story into a three act structure. So I opened up a fresh document and created a list from one to twenty-one (I figured 7 chapters for each act). Next, I filled in a few sentences each beside numbers 1-5, spelling out what has happened thus far in those chapters. And then…I minimized the window and started on my work for the day.

Here is where I should tell you that I have begun taking long walks during my lunch breaks. For years, I’ve been just sitting at my desk during lunch, watching Netflix or just surfing around. But then I turned 35, and started to notice, ever so slightly, that my pants were getting just a wee bit tighter. And so now, I get away from the desk and out into town. On a normal day, I go for about a three mile walk. It’s the highlight of my day (not including going home to the family after work).

Well, on Monday I started on my walk with thoughts of my novel in my head. I had been having my doubts regarding my story, though I left chapter 5 on a really big cliffhanger. I was starting to wonder if my premise had any merit (I’ve done this at least once a month since I began this project), but I knew I had to somehow keep writing. Partly because I did not want to quit again, and partly because my writing partners would kill me if I didn’t tell them what happened next. So I needed to figure out what happened next. I could picture that number 6 on that freshly created document taunting me.

So, I’m just walking and thinking, taking in the gorgeous Autumn air, recounting the events thus far in my mind, and what each character should be doing. And more importantly, what was their motivation. And then an idea popped into my head, roughly halfway through my walk. Not bad. And then another and another. And before I knew it, I knew what was going to happen in my next three chapters. This made me so ridiculously happy, like I was working on a puzzle, depressed that I had lost the last piece, only to discover I was sitting on the last piece the entire time. It is a feeling not unlike scoring a goal or hitting a home run.

The only rub to this epiphany was that I was about a mile and a half from my office with a great bunch of ideas, but without any way to record them. Normally I carry my iPod touch with me and type out my ideas on there. But on Monday I had left it behind because I thought the music was interfering with my brainstorming. So for the rest of the walk, I just kept repeating my ideas over and over in my head, so as not to forget them. I probably made record pace on my way back, but luckily I remembered it all. And so now, I know at least what is going to happen in the novel up through Chapter 8 and into Act 2. Man does it feel great.

So, my advice to you is to never give up. Also, get outside. Nature is a really wonderful muse and exercise is a pretty sweet boost too. Just remember to bring paper.