Lost In The Underbrush

overgrownpathLast weekend, I found myself at a point in my manuscript that’s, sadly, very familiar. I have found myself in the exact same place in all of the other books I’ve written (whether published or unpublished).

I realized I didn’t know where the hell I was going.

Until then, I had THOUGHT I knew where I was going.

I was sure I had a plan. An outline, if you will.

I thought I’d put in all the footsteps and building blocks and whatnot to get to my destination.

I thought I saw the destination, and was working towards it.

But, somehow, someway, I’d gotten lost in the underbrush.

And I didn’t know where the hell I was.

In fact, I looked up from my manuscript last weekend and realized I wasn’t going anywhere. I was just spinning around in a circle with no real objective in sight.

So what happened?

I think part of it was, even though I’d thought I had planned where I was going, I really hadn’t. I had a vague idea in mind of where I wanted to end up.  I was writing in a general direction, not with a specific objective.

Which is fine if you never want to get anywhere.

Upon further reflection, I was relieved to see that the words I’d written, the threads I’d created, were still good. The story was there, I could see the outline (heh!) of the path I wanted to take. But it was overgrown with shrubs that needed to be trimmed or replanted.

Actually, that’s not too bad. I need to take what is already there, and shape it up. Get those wild shrubs under control. But the ground itself is good, and the plants are healthy.

When I’ve run into this problem before, it’s often been a wee bit more challenging. Sometimes there’s a problem with the garden itself.  The path I’m walking isn’t right.  The plants are sickly.  Then everything needs to be moved or scrapped completely.

Sometimes I think the problem is the garden, the base of the story.  I throw everything away, when all I really needed to do was weed.

And isn’t this a little like life?  Or my life anyway.

We think we’re on a path, we think we can see it, we think we’re following it, we think we’re good.

And then we realize we don’t know where the hell we are.

We’ve gotten lost in the underbrush, or distracted by the pretty flowers, or fallen asleep under a tree.

Maybe the path is basically good, and it’s just covered with weeds. Then all we need to do is clean it up so we can see it clearly again.

Maybe the path is bad. Then we need to lay the course for a new one and move.

In both cases, some of the plants growing along the way might need to be discarded. Some might just need to be pruned or moved to a different place.  But we can’t assume that we should throw everything away simply because we’re lost.

Things we’ve done, people we’ve known, places we’ve been – these are all the words in the stories of our lives. Maybe we’ve lost our way to our destination, maybe we need to weed our path a little, maybe we need to change where our story is heading, but we can’t discount or discard the experiences we’ve had along the way just because we don’t know where the hell we are.

Fortunately, I didn’t immediately trash my entire manuscript. I could have. I could have thrown it all away in disgust, thinking it was worthless. I certainly have done that in the past. But I stopped, and evaluated the situation first. (which is a bit of a miracle).

Then, this time, for this book, I saw that the story was there, waiting for me to find it again.

lighted path




  1. It is, indeed, like life and a measure of maturity is how soon a person starts to check out where they are and do something about tidying up their ‘garden’ and making sure the path is clear and correct. These days there is so much persiflage that folks don’t even realize they are lost in the underbrush!

    • Betsy Horvath says

      @Athena: I usually just bumble around. 😀 At least with a story I basically know where I want to end up, so I can tell if I’m not getting there.

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