Headlight Goals: Seeing What’s Next

How to Keep Writing and Plotting When You Can Only See What’s Next


I’m working on a new novel, one that I have outlined in a synopsis but no further. I have a clear creative vision, but not a clear outline. I have novels that have been waylaid in the process of outlining, where I couldn’t solve a plot point and then the whole thing fell apart. As much as outlines have helped me in the past, this time I’m using the Headlight Method, which I first learned of in James Scott Bell’s indispensable reference, Plot & Structure.

E.L. Doctorow is credited with the saying, “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you make the whole trip that way.”

Neither pantser nor plotter am I, but something between. I need to see the next step, but if I have to have every detail done, I will never be done.
In the Headlight Method, you only need see as far as what’s in your headlights — you write scene by scene. When you get to the end of each, ask what next? What is the character’s emotional state? What is the next action the character needs to take?

I have a synopsis; I know where I’m going. I use the Headlight Method for what’s next.

This is going to be my approach to plotting but also writing goals, and other goals for 2015 too. When I have think about how long it will take me to write 100,000 words, I’m daunted. But I can think about 10K words, I can see my way to what’s next. Similarly, if I have to think about how to achieve a long-term health goal or a large financial goal, I’m overwhelmed. But if I can plan until the end of this month, I can be ready for next month.

So instead of New Year’s Resolutions or New Year’s goals, I have goals for what’s next in my headlights — for this month, this week, or today.

Or perhaps just next 30 minutes for  a writing sprint to get in another 500 words or another scene. Then I’m ready for what’s next.

Headlight Goals: How to Keep Writing and Plotting When You Can Only See What's Next

More explanation of the Headlights Method:
How to Outline a Novel Using the Headlights Method

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