Maps and journeys - the view from halfway there

We’re just over halfway through this round of Continuing the Craft, my Writing Circle for writers with a work in progress.

Six weeks ago, we started off by creating mind maps of what our projects might look like.  We allowed ourselves to dream big and invite possibility on to the page.  In order to have enough space, we used Big Paper.  Here we are, creating our maps during the first session:


Afterwards, I collected up the maps and hid them away in the back of some closet in my house.

Each Friday since, we’ve spilled a lot of ink. We’ve explored themes and archetypes, inhabited crucial moments, had coffees with our characters, and rooted our work in setting.  On non-Fridays, we’ve made and kept promises to ourselves to write. We’ve caught tiny butterflies with butterfly nets and chased ideas up trees and down the blank page.  We’re at a good pausing point.  It’s time check our bearings. Yesterday, I brought the maps back.

As the writers reacquainted themselves with their maps, I asked them what had changed, what was missing, what was no longer there. I asked them to tell me about the differences between a map and a landscape, or to meditate on the relationship between a map and a journey. I asked if anyone had moved off their maps and where they were going next.

Here is What we found:


One person whose ideas declined being mapped during the first session arrived with a map yesterday. And in her rolled-up, slightly-crushed map (as any self-respecting map should be), she introduced the idea of a time circle, instead of a time line. There was a collective gasp of inspiration as she shared her simple graphic.  Aha!  the writers seemed to say, in recognition of a good idea.


Another writer’s project had started off in the form of various lists. But the lists kept suggesting a hierarchy that felt like too many stacked stumbling blocks. Having made some progress, but needing a different kind of flow, she decided that it was time to invent the wheel. She recast this phase of her project accordingly, noting the roles of the hub, rim and spokes.

One person who had started with a circle many weeks ago reported that the circle is now rolling, has become a wheel. She hitched up her ideas to this engine and it’s all chugging along, exhaust clouds and all. Her map now has mile markers and signs pointing the way to the ‘Pat on the Back Café’ - recognising that progress, while not always easy and often circuitous, gets you moving towards places you want to be.

I was delighted by this preponderance of circles.

There is one  writer who has moved off her map. I recall that her original map started in the middle of the page, but the densest population of ideas floated up to the top right hand corner. Sure enough, yesterday she needed a new piece of Big Paper for a new map. We think she’ll be located somewhere to the northeast of her original map.

And several, while not changing their maps too much on the surface, have found that the two-dimensional assurance of starting out has turned into the multi-dimensional swirl of tensions between fiction and non-fiction, difficult choices about what to include and what to leave out, and ownership of story. Maps have their uses and times.  At the moment, for these writers, the maps may stay folded up in their back pockets. They’ll get them out when they need them.

When I launched this course in September, I had a map.

I still use it. But I had no idea how exciting it would be to watch these projects take shape, emerging bit by bit.  It’s been so very rewarding.  The landscape and the journey are so much more than the map ever could be. I’m enamoured of the creative processes I get to see. Each week, I aim to create a space that makes it possible for each writer to continue the craft.


Soon I will be announcing Writing Circles for Winter 2017!

I’m planning and mapping and dreaming, all the while knowing that the real events will add dimensions I can’t yet imagine.

I can tell you this much, though: I’ve booked Harston Hall for Spilling the Ink on Tuesday mornings and Continuing the Craft on Friday mornings.  The online Writing Circle will span 9 weeks and with a video link every other Sunday.  Details to come in a week or so.