Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


Do Writers Really Need a GPS?

I have a love/hate relationship with my GPS. On the one hand, I appreciate being able to input an address and magically have this robotic voice guide me to my destination, assuming it knows where to send me. But I also miss the hands-on experience of studying a map and finding my own route, one that makes sense to me and is visually verifiable. When I’m being directed by my GPS, I’m totally in the hands of the GPS gods, and I lose the fun of making my own plan.

You may be asking, but what does this have to do with writing? Isn’t this a blog for readers and writers?

LexmarkAIOScan9Yes. And that’s why I chose this topic.

It occurred to me recently that when writers follows an outline, when they know in advance where their story is going, they are using a kind of writer’s GPS. It may get them to a destination. But they’ll miss out on a lot. Instead of getting lost at times and stumbling into scenarios they had’t anticipated or letting the characters and situations guide them on this narrative journey, they rely on a plan that can eliminate the kind of surprises and interaction at the heart and soul of stories.

Okay, so I’m making a parallel between using a GPS and writing, and I’ve already extolled the virtues of maps that I can hold and peruse. You may be wondering what the difference is between writing that follows a plan (GPS) and writing that uses a map instead. Isn’t it the same thing?

Yes and no. Yes in the sense that somewhere in the writer’s unconscious a plan does exist, but she hasn’t teased it out yet. The reason it isn’t the same thing is because the GPS takes control. It assumes it knows where to go just as a writer does who actively plots a story beforehand. With a map, there are many more possibilities. We know that there’s a path, but we have to use our senses and trust in the unconscious to help us find it. That requires depending more on intuition than on conscious plotting.

What kind of device do you depend on?

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