The Road Not Taken -- by Jane Kelley

 Here I am -- deciding which path to take.

Actually that isn't me. That's a coyote in our backyard. I thought you'd rather see a picture of that than of me banging my head against a wall. 

Because deciding which path to take is HARD.  

There are so many choices when we write. What story, what character, what will the character do, what will the other characters do––even what will they wear, for god's sake. If only there were actual roads to choose when we write. But there aren't. Writing is like hacking through a jungle. Or wading through snow drifts in a blizzard. Or staring at the swirling screen saver on our computers.

Each small step matters. A lot. Yes, one can retrace if necessary, but our resources are limited. Do I really want to spend my life rewriting this frigging scene? Of course not! So each day I try to make better choices. What's fun. What's important. What leads away from blank walls and toward adventure.

A long time ago I made an extremely important choice. Before I published my middle-grade novels, I wrote novels for adults. Three, maybe four? I've let time fade them from my memory. They weren't exactly bad. They just weren't good enough. I didn't know that until, having failed to sell them, I tried to write something else. Those first chapters of what would become Nature Girl felt like a miracle. Not because they were so tremendous––they'd need a lot of rewriting, too ––but because they had actual life.

 George Saunders, in his brilliant book A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, talks about how he teaches his students to think about what kinds of writers they will be.

"As young writers, we all have romantic dreams of being a writer of a certain kind, of joining a certain lineage. . . But sometimes the world, via its tepid response to prose written in that mode, tells us that we are not, in fact, that kind of writer." 

Even George Saunders––yes, MacArthur, Guggenheim, Man Booker prize-winning, best-selling author George Saunders, couldn't answer that question when he began his career. He wanted to write like Hemingway. It took him years to discover that he was supposed to write like George Saunders. 

Thank goodness he did! But at the moment he discovered his turf, he confesses to feeling disappointed too. "It is less than we wanted it to be, and yet it's more too." Because that place is uniquely our own. 

And if, as he says, we commit to it and to ourselves, then we can eventually make our patch of jungle into a place where other people will enjoy traveling.

That coyote, by the way, headed east across our yard. First she looked back.

Was she wondering if she had made the right choice? Or was she appreciating that she didn't have to go toward more suburban neighborhoods, with larger houses and manicured lawns. She could go where there was more woods. Where there would be better hunting. And where what she would find life.

Jane Kelley is currently rewriting that frigging scene for the umpteenth time. But she's confident that she will create more middle-grade novels like Nature Girl, The Girl Behind the Glass, and The Desperate Adventures of Zeno and Alya.


  1. Less than we wanted, and yet, it's more. That's so perfect.

  2. Beautiful. I needed this reflection on writing eight now. Thank you.


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