How Do I Know When I’m on the Right Track?

Hi, readers. Welcome back! I love this question: How do you know when you’re on the right track with your novel? There is a massive misconception that any writing is good writing. This simply isn’t true. While any writing will enhance your ability to write, readers are only interested in reading good stories. So, when do you know that you are onto something good? In today’s article, I will try to shed some light on the matter.

Let’s start with the misconception that all writing is good. Most things in your refrigerator are also good, but you wouldn’t want to make a ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard salad. Likewise, spaghetti sauce probably wouldn’t go well with a tuna-salad sandwich. The point is that the wrong combination of elements, although quite good on their own, can be terrible when combined. This analogy applies to writing, as well, but I’m oversimplifying.

Have you ever prepared an experimental meal where you just knew that you were on the right track with ingredients and seasoning, where each element complemented the other? I’m sure you have. A quick taste test tells you that it’s delicious already but could use a few more dashes of salt to bring it to life. This is what it feels like when you’re on the right track with writing a novel. Everything just starts to make sense and, suddenly, you discover all the missing elements required to make it perfect.

What happens if you’re preparing this experimental meal and you realize that it is horrible? Do you continue to add spices and ingredients or do you toss the dish out and start over? Burnt toast is burnt toast; you can’t fix it. You adjust the settings on the toaster and start over. The question is how do you recognize that your toast is burnt when you can’t see or smell it?

Let me paint you a picture since painting pictures with words is what I do. Consider the following scenario:

By some miraculous event, you’ve just arrived in the middle of a dense forest. You have absolutely no idea of where you are, how you got there, or how you are going to get out. Which way do you go? Let’s take it a step further and say that you’re an accomplished survivalist. Since you know that water, which is your most valuable resource, flows downhill, you might venture off in that direction. However, if you want to get a better lay of the land, you might head uphill to find the best vantage point. What I’m saying here is that the options are almost endless as you could head in any direction for any number of reasons.

The scenario I created is not unlike writing a novel. When you start, you often have little idea of where you are or where you are going. You may have a goal in mind, but the routes you might take to achieve it are endless. So, you pick one and get started. Like a survivalist lost in the wilderness, you commit to your decision and press forward. Altering your path or going back could be fatal. Unfortunately, you might be heading down a path to nowhere. So, again, how do you know when you’re on the right path?

An experienced survivalist will see signs along the way that confirms he’s heading in the right direction. Tracks from wildlife suggest that a water source may be nearby. When the forest begins to clear, that suggests that a town may be close. He might find a stream and begin to follow it to its source or he might come across a trail and walk down the path to find a road. If he’s worth his weight in salt, he will constantly be looking for signs. If more than a few hours go by without seeing any, he will begin to rethink his approach.

As an author, you need to be an expert survivalist of words. If you feel lost, then you probably are. If you see signs that you’re on the right track, then press on. To put this into more practical terms, I will leave you with this: If you’ve written five chapters and you still don’t know where you are or where you’re going, toss it and start over. No matter how many spices you add, you’re not going to make the meal any better at this point.

Thanks for reading and leave a comment if you enjoyed this article. See you soon!

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