A Word about Waymarkers

Knowing where you’re going is the most important part of any journey.  In the real world it will be a tangible destination.  Depending on how far you’re going you might rely on word of mouth, map, GPS or navigation by the stars to get you there.  But whether you’re headed around the corner (trust me I’ve missed our road more than once when I’ve been daydreaming), or to the outer edges of the earth – it’s a good idea to check your bearings regularly.

Which brings me to the waymarker, and why I think it is such a great concept in real life and in writing.  A waymarker is exactly what its name implies; something that marks the way.  It might be an elaborate information board, a signpost, a stone, a wooden post, or a mark on a tree.  Whatever form it takes, the waymarker has been placed by people who’ve passed that way before to ensure the path can be easily identified.  They are especially useful when the path is hard to see.

Now I’ve been lost before.  Numerous times in fact. (Those who know me will have their hands in their heads right now – I’m not good with maps).  But the most distressing occasions have been when I’ve been unable to find a recognisable landmark.  So here are my tips regarding waymarkers, learned from the school of do-it-the-hard-way.  May they spare you unnecessary grief.

1. Know what your waymarker looks like.

Sounds obvious?  You’d think so.  But when I was at school a group of us got lost because what we thought were waymarkers back to our campsite, were actually – well I never actually learned what those white painted marks led to.  By the time we realised we were on the wrong track we were miles away from where we should be.

In writing terms – you know what the big goal is.  To make things easier on yourself, work out smaller identifiable goals you can check against on the way.  They might be key plot points you need to hit, an editing checklist, specific timeframes or a submission plan. The more identifiable the marker the easier it will be to achieve your goal.

2. Is your waymarker reliable?

My husband and I once went rambling in Wales.  It was a gorgeous location and we excited to get out into it.  We picked up a walking map from our camping ground and were dispatched with warm assurances we would enjoy ourselves.  We did.  It was everything it promised to be, until we got a few hours out of town and reached the edge of the map.  We could see the other side of the loop leading back to town (further down the map) but weren’t sure how to get there.  To make matters worse the markers we came across (after we left the map) didn’t point to anywhere we could reference.  In the end, we took a risk and went off-track in what we hoped was the right general direction.  It was a rough, heart-in-mouth, journey home, but we eventually got there.

The moral of the story – if you’re relying on other people make sure their advice is sound.  Check reputation, proven experience and trust your gut if you have doubts.

3. Effective waymarkers are close together.

This one is simple.  The more often you check you’re on the right track, the less likely you are to wander off it. I can vouch for this one.

4. If you find yourself lost go back.

This is great advice, yet when you’re out in the thick of things (as I’ve already demonstrated) it’s easy to set out into uncharted territory in the hopes you can make up ground.  As a rule this is a bad idea.  In the case of my school camping expedition – we struck out on our own and got horribly lost.  What might have been only an hour to backtrack, ended up being 6 hours lost in the bush.  It was only the fact that we were on an island and were able to find a small village that it didn’t end badly.

In writing terms we can literally lose the plot and write ourselves into the ditch.  If we can recognise this early we can go back to our last solid story marker and get back on track with minimal hair loss.

5. Reassurance in the darkness.

Sometimes the path doesn’t look like the path.  It looks like some overgrown animal track that leads to nowhere.  But if a solid marker has been laid it doesn’t matter how dark, rocky, or narrow it becomes – you still know you’re on the right track.  Our NZ bush is very dense, and it never ceases to amaze me that you can be really close to your destination, but you might not know it until suddenly there is a break in the trees – and you’re there.

I’m having a milestone birthday this week, so I’ve found myself reassessing my life, my goals and my priorities.  It’s been good to look back and see where I’ve been, and how far I’ve come.  But also good to look forward and know the waymarkers have been laid ahead of me too.

So how about you?  What sort of waymarkers do you use in your writing, or your life?  Do you think they’re useful?


10 thoughts on “A Word about Waymarkers

  1. I’m basically a plotter so with stories I like to have an outline for a map. With my poetry my goal is set and I use a germinal idea, which is a bit like your solid marker on a dark, narrow, rocky path. Good article, I like your metaphors.

  2. Happy Birthday Raewyn…With my writing, my way marker is my trusty notebook, scene cards and large post-it notes stuck into my notebook when I have a bling moment or idea for my plot. This lot help me to write while I type because scrolling on a laptop often means losing the previous drift of the story. There is writing software like Srivener, but I still prefer my notebook. By the way, I got lost hiking once with my friend in the Lake District, UK, eons ago. We followed our way marker – our group leader, got lost after climbing up a cliff and rambled after another group who luckily led us back to base. I think it’s a lot easier to follow your heart in real life though. Or even better, one’s trusty inner voice.

    1. Thanks Alison! There is something about having a good notebook that does keep you grounded in the story. I usually have a few going, although I need a better system for retrieving some of those off the cuff notes I made somewhere…

      I agree your inner voice / heart is pretty reliable. The idea of waymarkers in writing is just a reminder to take a breath once in a while and re-evaluate.

  3. I just checked it out and agree! I think we do have a similar process – great minds and all… I liked your idea of putting in the resolution aspect. (I’m learning plenty today). What I’ve found challenging is when the markers are too far apart, or when I need to flesh out the subplots which don’t seem to have got enough attention at the outlining. But I am getting better at it.

  4. I’ve yet to figure this one out. My characters freerange quite a bit. I know, more or less, where they are going, and what is going to happen, but they are in charge of when and how. And sometimes they change things on me. I have no idea whether or not this strategy (or lack thereof) will eventually work or not, but all attempts I have made to do otherwise have failed.

  5. I always use a website called your-trips.de for my markups. It’s possible planning your path before you go. After your journey you can add some photos and show to your friends.

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