Sunday, April 18, 2010


“Zigzag: A line or course that proceeds by sharp turns in alternating directions.” --The Free Dictionary

If you’re the kind of writer who zigzags through the water, turning from one idea or project to another in rapid succession, you know that zigzagging can be both a blessing and a curse.

It’s a blessing when zigging and zagging brings you up on an unexpected discovery, helps rekindle your passion, shows you a new way to approach a story that you might have missed if you’d stayed on a straight line.

But it can be a curse if you find yourself zigzagging only to escape a difficult problem, a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, or when you’re trying to avoid a particular issue, even if you’re unaware of what you're trying to avoid.

How do you know when to zigzag and when to remain on a straight path toward your intended goal?

I think you have to listen to the sound of your heart as you zigzag.

Is it panicky, frightened, running from some unknown or unnamed fear? Are you afraid of standing still, being a target, getting bitten by a shark or stung by a stingray while in the water?

These are the times when I suspect we zigzag as an escape, a convenient way to avoid the difficult issues or problems that we must eventually face.

When is it good to zigzag?

Perhaps when you find yourself losing interest in a project. Or when you feel bored or tired of a certain approach, in need of a new perspective.

That’s when zigzagging can be invigorating, give you new inspiration, help you find your way back onto the path you were hoping to carve for yourself and your characters when you first embarked on your project.

It takes courage to stay in one place and face one’s demons.

And it takes courage and wisdom to know when to cut bait and set off on a new, different, untested path and zigzag into the unknown.

You’re the one who has to decide when zigzagging is in your best interest or when it’s a ploy to help you avoid the challenges of facing a tough, sometimes painful, issue.

For more on writers facing tough issues, visit:,+Tender+Minds.%28Jacqueline+Woodson%29%28Critical+Essay%29-a075121899


laurasalas said...

Hey Bruce--I zigzag between projects a lot, because I just seem to like to work on lots of things at once and because it lets me write about whatever I'm in the mood for. I suspect I got this habit from trying to fit in my own writing among all my work for hire writing and other business and household tasks. I learned to write in small spurts and change direction frequently.

When I'd *like* to learn to zigzag, though, is within a project. I tend to be more linear and boring within one project. I need to jolt myself out of my rut and risk more, zigzag more, in the midst of a single project.

THanks for the reminder!

Bruce Black said...

Zig zagging within a project is a challenge, that's for sure. Maybe it's because we tend to stay closer to shore once our words are down on paper.

I'm trying to stay open to new ideas, even in the last stages of editing, even when a new idea will change the shape (or what I thought was the shape) of the project.

If we view the entire process--first drafts, revisions, final edits--as a way for us to open to new ideas, maybe that openness will enable us to zig zag more?

Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts.