Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Finding My Own Way

For my last birthday (no, I won't tell you which one) my mother got me a TomTom GPS. I sent it back.

I like to find my own way.

I suppose it's in my blood. My father's always been one for the indirect journey. Though able to admit when he's made a wrong turn, thus eschewing the male stereotype, he is yet completely incapable of turning around. As kids, we knew we were in real trouble when he got the map out. Still, he would always insist the route we were on would work itself out in the end. 

Maddeningly, it almost always did. 

Not the road I was on. Darn it.
I was driving to an appointment last week when a traffic report warned of an accident on my route. Immediately I zoned out, mentally coasting along the highways and back roads that would get me around the jam. I knew the area well, having spent many teenage hours weaving through the towns of Morris and Summit counties. OK, my parents weaved because back then, the State of New Jersey wouldn't let me drive until I turned 17. 

It was a lovely day for driving, the sun had remembered to shine, the air was comfortable, and I was on familiar roads dotted by landmarks that sparked warm memories. That was G's old house. Here's where I made M turn thinking I was funny and flirty when really I was an annoying 14-year-old twit. There's the Charlie Brown restaurant where my mother, sister and I watched what seemed to be a never-ending playoff game when the Mets took the pennant in '86. I love those roads. I love gunning it through the curves, coasting down the hills, knowing when and how to get around the inevitable slow, elderly driver. It helps that I remember where the cops like to hide.

Somewhere after crossing Noe Ave but before Long Hill Drive, it occurred to me that this drive was like the long and winding road of a writer's journey. Certainly my own journey as a writer has been far from straight. A hodgepodge of fits and starts followed by intense outpourings of – well, let's face it, utter claptrap. My current WIP is the descendant of a story I wrote my sophomore year of college. I still have steno books filled with the beginnings of another novel that I wrote while working for Sears credit central when I thought I'd fallen into a black hole from which I would never emerge (To quote Bull Durham, working for Sears sucks.) I had drive, I had intention and ambition, but I desperately lacked directions.

And then, I got out the map.

In 2008, I joined RWA and my local chapter, NJRW, and suddenly this wild and crazy desire, this pie in the sky dream, finally began to gel together into something real. This past weekend, as I listened to a panel of experienced editors and agents detail what writers do wrong, I thought of all the things I've done wrong on this journey and the handful of things I've managed to work out right. Joining RWA and NJRW, finding my extraordinary critique partners and a cadre of chapter mates who constantly encourage me, attending workshops and conferences, learning from great writers who've already gone down my rocky road. 

Sure, life and responsibility continue to intervene, throwing detours and speed bumps in my way without even a sympathetic spat of a foreshadowing traffic report. The trick is to journey on, improving craft, making contacts, finding my own special way as I keep working to be better at what I am – a writer.

In the end, the route always works itself out.

Maps? GPS? Tell me how you like to find your way. Two random commenters will get a book from the Mighty Basket of Win.


  1. So glad our journeys crossed at NJRW!

    This post got me thinking about the Tolkien Quote: “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost."

  2. me too! my fave tolkein quote "In the end, the darkness was but a small and passing thing. There was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach."

  3. Kiersten: You have such a nice blog. Mine looks well, never mind.
    Hey, I'm a man. The last thing I do is read a map, check the GPS or ask directions. Your other pieces are well written.

  4. Joe - Thank you! I'm so pleased you like the blog. And no worries, your comment posted just fine.

  5. I'm a firm believer that if you've lived in NJ for a while, it's hard to get lost if you have a good sense of direction. I've tried to get lost before, just doesn't happen. Too many damn highways. LOL

  6. I still use maps. When I went across country a few years ago, some of the best moments happened because I took a wrong turn.

  7. @Jenn - oh you can get lost. It's the land of disappearing lanes, after all. But I do think that once you learn the tricks, it takes effort. to do it.

    @April. I totally agree. When I went to Ireland, I got a road map, rented a car and drove. No plan, no hotel rez, just coke, hobnobs and a full tank. Time after time I found special adventures because I met this person here or got that suggestion there. Loved it. Still have the map. I want to mark out my trip and frame it - one day.

  8. Nice Post!

    I actually let someone else find their way. I enjoy sitting in the passenger seat, listening to music and watching the scenery go by.

  9. Hey Kiersten!
    Loved the metaphor. And by the way, I meant to get here much sooner, but I guess I. . .lost my way? ;>

  10. @Lisa - you alone have found the one thing I never do! Correction, I don't do it in day to day life. On vacation, I'm more than happy to let someone else drive - provided they know what they're doing. And if they don't, be sure I'll tell them.

    In real life, I'm much too much a control freak to allow anyone else to drive my car while I'm in it. Drives me crazy. Even on the rare occasions when I'm a passenger, I have to control myself from directing the driver where to go & what to do. My poor friends

    @Rosemary - it's all about the journey, right? So long as you arrive sometime! Glad you got here in time - I'm choosing prize winners this week!

  11. had i known, i would have begged you for the gps you sent back. i am one of the select few who can and do get lost in a box or going around the corner. to this day, even with my gps, i have to have a map, go to google and/or mapsonus and compare/print out directions. when i go on long trips, you will find me at AAA getting all the maps i can get my hands on. i am just quirky that way :D

  12. You took the GPS back! I love it. It must be a writer thing or a Jersey Girl thing. Can't get me lost here either. And I probably know at least three different ways to get where I need to go.

    Gee, does this mean I can take Hubby's back? Kids bought him one for his birthday as joke. We got the GPS lost in Pennisula Park. The park doesn't exist on GPS maps and you take a private road to get there. I thought that was fun. I knew where I was and how to get home, to bad the GPS didn't. Trying to figure out how to use that idea in my writing.

  13. @marlou Once when my family was on a trip (Dad driving, natch), my sister piped up with "if we come out where I think we'll come out then I know where we're gonna come out." That's a family catchphrase to this day. Sense of direction - unfortunately you either have it or you don't.

    @Pat - I know! The GPS often take you the most difficult way or tell you there's nothing there when you dang well know there is! One thing I do like is being able to change the language. I once turned my best friend's GPS in her Explorer to French and didn't tell her...