Are You Directionally Challenged?

I once directed my husband to my sister’s house.  We didn’t have her address and my husband had never been to her house.

“That looks familiar. Turn left here. Oh, I’m pretty sure we passed the subway, went right, then crossed through the light…”

We ended up on the south-west side of the city instead of the north-east side.

My husband, who by then should have known better than to listen to my directions—I turn right when I should turn left and vice versa—finally stopped at a pay phone. Remember those?! My sister gave him the street address and directions. With those in hand and without getting lost, he drove right to her house.

To this day, my husband still listens to my directions. Trust is such a wonderful thing. 🙂

I come by my lack of direction skills honestly. Every year, when my Dad took us on vacation, he drove through Calgary on his way to Penticton. Back then, there was only one route through the city. It only changed if there was construction and a detour.

And yet every year, my Dad got lost. We’d end up in one of the residential sections, until my Mom took navigational control and directed Dad back to the main highway and out of the city.

These days, when I want to go somewhere I’m unfamiliar with, I do the following:

1. Address in hand, I head for Google Maps.

2. Locate my destination, preplan my route, then study the surrounding streets in case I mess up.

3. Print off the map, highlight the route, and write down the instructions.

5. Quiz my guys. Any traffic circles? Oops, need to find an alternate route because traffic circles confuse me. According to my mom, they confused my dad, too. Overpasses, merging lanes, or anything else out of the norm? Check, check, check.

When it comes to writing, I need a road map, too. I’m a panster at heart. I love to sit down and bang out the story. But by the time I type THE END, I’ve taken so many detours, the story is lost in a muddle of side trips. Even worse, the story has no structure.

These days, I do some extra planning. I have the end in sight and a general map of the story to guide me. Before writing a scene, I preplan it, using colored sticky notes for the different characters. I can immediately recognize when I’ve taken a wrong turn and I can fix it before I end up writing a totally different book than the one I started to write.

Or before I end up writing garbage.

By the time I type THE END, I’m happy because the structure is solid and I know the edit stage is going to be manageable.

So do you know your left hand from your right hand? Are you directionally challenged like I am? Or can you navigate on the road as easily as you can navigate your way through your story?

About Sheila Seabrook

Author of contemporary romance and women's fiction.

Posted on June 27, 2012, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. I’m a pantser, Sheila, with the story’s beginning and end in mind and the murky middle out there in “I guess I’ll figure it out as I go” land. Not very practical, but it is what it is. I tend to write scenes as they come to me and then piece them together. Thankfully, I’m much better with street directions!

    • It’s interesting that even pansters work in different ways, Christy. I always write my books in a linear fashion, from beginning to end. I may miss scenes here and there and have to go back to fill them in, but if I wrote the scenes out of order, I’d have even a bigger mess to clean up. LOL!

  2. Oh, Sheila, I’m SO with you here. If I’m in the car with her, and she’s not sure which way to turn, she asks me. Then turns the opposite way. And she’s always right.

    East from West? I have to picture a map of the US to figure it out. NY or CA?

    I can find somewhere if I have directions (go to Main, turn right, go to Oak, turn left.) A map? Fuggedaboudit. Seriously, I don’t have the gene that allows you to convert the chicken scratch to what I’m doing on the road.

    I used to be embarrassed to admit this. I’m an independent, degreed woman! But I’ve come out about it, and found out that there are a lot of people like me (not just women, either.)

    It’s now a moot point. My latest car has a little man in it, that tells me where to go. I’m so crushing on him.

    I didn’t realize how stressed directions made me, until he came. I wonder if he’s married? Match made in Heaven.

    • Laura, I also have to picture a map to determine which is east or west … or north and south. Almost everyone around me navigates easily, so I hid my confusion for years. Now, I guess I’m old enough to admit that I haven’t a clue where I’m going.

      I need a little man like you have. 🙂

  3. Sheila, I have strong navigational skills, but not always when I write. I didn’t always use props or aids to guide me through a manuscript, but I’ve begun to see the wisdom in them in my current project. I’m writing a trilogy and I need to plan ahead. Does it make the task easier? No, but hopefully when I get to the end I will have less revising to do. 🙂

    • Having less revising is certainly the key to finding the desire to plan ahead, isn’t it, Tracy. LOL! I’ve always dreaded revisions, because they were a mess, but now that my writing is more structurally sound, I have less revisions to do and it’s wonderful!

  4. Dearest Shiela: I once got lost driving home! That is my worst “directiontally challenged” story. For years my family thought it was because I am a South Paw … but I have learned that I am among a large group and the worst of this group must have invented the GPS or gave birth to that little man in Laura Drake’s car 🙂

    Writing? Well have you ever heard the expression that we write the way we talk? Until I pull myself back to the “subject” I can talk the way I drive, going off in odd directions, making side comments, referencing little known facts the listener didn’t want to know! Episodic. Someone told me I wrote episodic stories, like astream of consciousness or a series of chain reactions.

    For my writing there was hope. I learned to think before I wrote, go back and trash those “extras” the ones directors use in epic moview with thousand of “extras.”

    As for my driving. There is no hope. I use modern techie devices and when all else fails, or when my book club is meeting at a “new” house, I jump into my best friend’s car and she drives me 🙂

    • OMG, we’re like twins, Florence! Although I’ve never gotten lost driving home. LOL! But, like you, the main editorial comments I received were that my stories were episodic. And–again like you–if I don’t know where I’m going, I always catch a ride with someone who does. 🙂

  5. I am VERY directionally challenged. If I’m in an unfamiliar city, forget it. I can even get lost following Google maps, and it’s worse when I’m with someone, because I’m always talking. My mother and I are notorious for getting lost for that very reason. We once drove 50 miles out of our way before we realized it!

    • LOL, 50 miles out of your way?! That’s just too funny, Stacy. But I’ll bet you had fun doing it. 🙂

      When I’m with my mom, I let her navigate. She has a wonderful sense of direction and always seems to know how to get somewhere.

  6. Sheila, like you I prefer to be armed with a map (especially in Calgary!) but in Edmonton as long as I have the street address. Out here in the country it’s different again. The first year we were going to a Boxing Day get-together with my not-yet-inlaws, I asked my MIL where these cousins lived. She said, “Oh, go down this road a few miles and turn left at the cow sign.” Yes, the COW SIGN. I couldn’t believe it. But I drove and sure enough, there was a sign saying “Salers for sale.” That sign is since gone. Now when I go see those cousins I turn at the old skating rink. lol

    For writing, I like my beginning, end and a few high points in the middle clear and then I go. Yes, sometimes I take detours and have to backtrack but many times the detour ends up being the road I should have taken to begin with.

    Great post. Have a lovely day!

    • I can follow the cow sign, Michelle. It’s much easier than a street address. LOL! And I agree with you about those detours in the story … they often lead to wonderful ideas and scenes that make the story worth reading. 🙂

  7. I’m a panster, but I always have a rough outline in my head when I get started. I wait till it forms before beginning. As for driving and directions, I’m a robot. Or at least that’s what my friends say – a Cylon. LOL. I always know where I am going. Built in locator. 😀

    Have a marvelous day Sheila!

  8. Debra, I wish I had your Cylong tendencies! I’m always amazed by my husband’s sense of direction and at how easily he maneuvers around places he’s unfamiliar with. Even when I’m holding the map and trying to help, he has navigational control. And I’m very thankful he does. 🙂

  9. Fun post, Sheila! I have the worst sense of direction. Roy is verbally dyslexic, but on the road he can find his way anywhere, even in new places. Strange. As to writing, I usually have a general plan that changes as I go and discover more about the story. Kind of like the E.L. Doctorow analogy of driving in the dark and seeing only as far as the headlights.

    • I find people with such a good sense of direction totally fascinating and I often wonder what makes their brain so different that they just know where to go. Like road signs. My husband tells me to watch for a certain road sign, yet he sees it long before I do. Perhaps it’s because I’m always looking around. LOL!

  10. Like Debra Kristi, I’ve got a built-in locator, Sheila, and I need it because I dread and avoid unprotected left-hand turns. This means I turn right and double back or take the long way around.

    I’m a pantser with a plan, but I have a tough time with writing’s unprotected left: conflict.

    • Interesting that those left-handed turns get you on the road and in your story, Pat. I agree though. The trick is to find an antagonist strong enough, there’s only two options for the writer … run away or put conflict on the page!

  11. I’m a guy, so I’m never lost, or more to the point I never ask for directions 😉

    I’m 50/05 plotter and pantser. However I start I want to know the ending to my story. Then I can chose the most interesting route to get there. One of the things about writing is that you can take any route, unlike navigating yourself around, you don’t have to start from where you are.


  12. I grew up in Calgary where the mountains are always to the west of the city. I can usually get to where I’m going without too much trouble. but I admit I like to have places as markers, as well as street names (and that is truer as I get older). and usually if I’ve driven somewhere once i can get back to it. But I love my Garmin and google maps is a godsend. and heaven help me in places like Albuquerque NM where mountains surround the city

  13. lynnkelleyauthor

    I’m terrible with directions. I’ll go into a restroom in a restaurant and turn the wrong way when I leave to go back to my table! Same with driving. I finally got a GPS to help me, but Beverly (that’s what I named it) causes me a lot of problems because she loses satellite reception, tells me to turn right on West St. or whatever when I’m already on the freeway, and strange things like that. So a GPS system isn’t always reliable, but better than nothing. Google maps are better, but still can be challenging to me!

    I’m a pantser, too, but usually know where I’m going before starting a chapter. When collaborating with my co-authors, we plot everything out and it works much better that way.

  14. Most of the time I have a natural sense of direction and can find my way wherever I need to go. But occasionally, I’m totally flummoxed. Same goes for my writing! Thankfully, I eventually find my way… 🙂

  15. Coleen Patrick

    I’m ok with directions after I’ve been there once. My problem is not paying attention when others are driving–so I always need to go to Google maps to get my directions. Oh and I am with you on traffic circles or roundabouts–they scare me! 🙂

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