I’ve been having a lot of conversations lately about about the ubiquity of trade-offs. Every decision requires giving up something. Where you live, what job you take or keep, how you spend your down-time, what people you spend that time with. Every choice means you’re not doing something else.
This is a lot like writing. Some of us like to discover the story as we write it. We start with a character or two, a scene, and then we keep asking “then what happens?” until we find out. Doing this may lead to long and winding road full of dead-ends that have to be rewritten. It’s sometimes frustrating, but it’s not boring.
Alternatively, some of us like to know our destination before we start. We map our route and follow it to the end. We may not know very detail, but we avoid distracting side-trips that don’t lead anywhere. We’re in control from start to finish.
People live their lives much the same. One path may lead to serendipitous surprises, the other to a more direct path to one’s objective. Neither is inherently superior to the other.
Fortunately, it’s not an either/or choice. Life has a way of forcing us to improvise no matter how much we try to plan. Sometimes it’s better to just go with the flow instead of resisting. Our subconscious may offer up a more interesting idea than what our fore-brains have come up with. Taking a little time to explore off the map and enjoy the trip may lead us to a better place than we had planned on going.
Likewise, having a general idea of where we want to end up will keep us from meandering too far afield, both in life and in writing. There’s a fair amount of truth in the old saw, “If you don’t know where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?”