Writing Off the Beaten Path

Every morning we go for a walk at The Dog Woods Trail, and usually our path is pretty predictable: once around the baseball field or down a road to the short loop designated for dogs. But, for some reason, this morning our old dog decided to go off the beaten track.

As we followed her down the unfamiliar path in the woods, I realized that sometimes as writers we go off the beaten path, too.

On a dog walk, it can bring the thrill of seeing something never before seen, like a new bird, a freshly blooming wildflower, or the early-morning sun slanting through newly-leafing trees. Or maybe the not-so-fun: wading through an unfamiliar mud patch or ending up with a tick from traipsing through the dense thicket.

In writing, off-the-beaten path can be a new direction. In my case, leaving the familiar terrain of journalism and technical writing to follow a new path of fiction, creative nonfiction, and blogging.

By going off the beaten trail, I’ve given myself permission to write and blog about things I might never otherwise have considered—like the other day when I wrote a blog post about a “home” in a dead tree in the woods. With the unexpected consequence of some readers thinking I might believe in fairies, it was a fun nonetheless to dabble in fantasy, a genre I’ve never before tried.
Or last month when I blogged about something intensely personal: my brother’s sudden death—certainly a path I never would have even considered before blogging—which brought the unexpected but most appreciated solace and sympathy from new writer friends.

Sometimes writing off the beaten path pays off in other ways, like a few years ago when—on a whim—I decided to write a short romance story that ended up being accepted for publication in a mainstream, national women’s magazine.

And sometimes trying a new direction offers personal unexpected rewards—like how my blogging has led to a renewed commitment to writing of all kinds and to connections with other writers I never would have met otherwise.

So, as chance-y as it might sometimes be, this writer will take a lesson from her old dog and keep taking journeys off the beaten path. Who knows what it might turn up next.

What writing (or life) journeys do you take off the beaten path? What are the results? Are they the ones you’ve expected or have there been some surprises?



  1. Erika Marks says:

    Such a poignant post, Julia. And I love the sentiment of it. We have so much to gain, as writers, as people, when we veer off the path, even if it’s for a short time. As writers, we have so many opportunities to express our stories, so many genres, so many styles, until we settle on one of our own. I especially find reading genres outside my “comfort zone”, is always beneficial, even if it’s not a good match. It often keeps my own writing fresh, I find.

  2. Chris Fries says:

    I love the post for today. Like Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”


    Be careful taking too much advice from the dog. Ours used to love straying when we walked, and sometimes it led to wonderful finds of things I wouldn’t have ordinarily seen, but sometimes it simply mean she’d smelled something dead in the undergrowth that she wanted to roll in, or she decided she wanted a new bush to take a dump next to.


  3. landguppy says:

    Dogs are a path to new kinds of writing and thinking all by themselves. They don’t need a path at all.

  4. Loved the woodland imagery your post provided, Julia. Although I don’t have a dog, I also love to take strolls, and sometimes I’ll get off the beaten path and discover something I never had before. In writing, that’s why I see outlines as mere suggestions, and it doesn’t mean the plot is set in stone. Sometimes getting off the “beaten path” is just more exciting!

  5. Liz says:

    i find that whenever i wrote something different than my usual, i get comments like, “wow, i really love when you do posts like these” comments. 🙂

  6. mark says:

    You mean, we’re not supposed to write about one or three things only? 🙂

    I do like the illustrative device you used to bring the subject into focus. I’ve elected as a writer to write where my mind takes me. However, for this month, I have a single goal and some structure. Should make for an interesting month.

  7. You are writing my song. Always grateful to read of other writers, loving and writing the unconventional….

  8. I love this post, Jullia, and am so happy to hear that you have found such meaning in your writing. I couldn’t agree more. On my first novel, I stuck to a strict outline and stupid, stupid formulaic rules that did NOT fit my genre. In hindsight, I see how that approach thwarted my progress. Many people – hubby and good friend/author Jessica McCann – told me to “just write it and write it my way.” Being the people-pleaser I am, I couldn’t. I couldn’t let my writing coach down. I had to follow “the rules” and do it how it is “supposed to be done.” On the current WIP, I am allowing my characters to take me on journeys off the beaten path, and I am only loosely outlining. And guess what? It’s working! My writing is better (I think). And it’s much more enjoyable. Thanks for the reminder that a little adventure can go a long way in the writing process. And thanks for your generous support. Impressive: your first romance story, off the bat, in a national mag. You rock! And you CAN do this; you will make this transition. No doubt in my mind.

  9. Leah says:

    I can so relate to this. Up until I started my blog, I never thought of my writing being anything but journalistic or writing Web content, etc. Even when I was younger, I wrote news and features, but nothing personal. Starting my blog was when I finally went off the beaten path and started writing about me. And that leap of faith started me writing about my experiences for other national blogs and such. Then when I left my job in January, I feel like an entire creative world has been opened for me. It’s been such a learning experience to see where the path leads!

  10. Great post, Julia! Reminded me of being a kid in rural upstate New York and dreaming about what I wanted to write in my journal. Nowadays, I’m a busy web copy writer, but I long for those carefree moments when I can be creative and write from my soul. Writing is a wonderful journey to be on, isn’t it? – Tess C. Taylor, Taylor Resources Writing

  11. This is a great idea for a blog post, and you’ve asked some good questions. I had to think about them before I realized that my focus in grad school has definitely changed. I started out writing journalistic stories, but this semester I’ve been writing personal essays. It’s been a kind of therapy for me because I’m getting all kinds of things out on the page.

  12. Erika, Thanks and glad you have the same feelings — it’s both refreshing but also a little scary stepping off the path, but as you say we have so much to gain!

    Chris, I know what you mean about advice from the dog…haha! Although when I first started blogging I read the most amazing blog (can’t remember where) that someone had written about advice from their dog. It was one of the best blogs I’ve ever read!

    landguppy, so true. dogs really don’t need a path! I wish I could spend one day in Abby’s mind, fascinating!

    Jolina, I agree, the off the path can be a lot more exciting! Although, I’m not sure I’m as adventurous with stepping off the outline. I wish I could be more like you are and see them more as suggestions! It doesn’t work as well for me…

    Liz, I’ve seen your posts like that — you write a wonderful variety with great success! Awesome blog!

    Mark, haha! Love the way you chose a theme for your month of blogs!

    Julie, I am nothing if not unconventional! Now you’re singing MY song 🙂

    Melissa, Very very interesting. I am learning a LOT about writing from hanging around you, Melissa! I also agree that it’s impossible to be true to ourselves if we are always trying to please others. It’s a lesson I learn again and again. p.s. YOU ROCK TOO! 🙂

    Leah, It really does take a leap of faith, I agree. Your blog is such a wonderful mix, lovely and personal and always thoughtful. It’s why I love it so much–I can relate to things you write about on many levels, so I’m glad you can relate to this!

    Tess, Thanks for the visit and the compliment! Being a creative writer really is a wonderful journey and carefree in a way — I never thought of it quite like that! Thanks so much for a new insight!

    Jen, Writing is quite therapeutic in many ways, and it’s so interesting to me how not only our writing but also our interests in writing (and reading) change over time….thanks for the comment and the visit 🙂

  13. Hi Julia! What a lovely post. I think anything that forces us out of our writing comfort zone is a good thing. In writing and life, it’s too easy to get stagnant. Sounds like you are adept at listening to the little cues– the ones that tell you to branch out.

  14. Hi Stephanie, Thanks so much for the visit and for the compliment on the post! I so agree about paying attention to all cues, regardless of where they come from! So glad you came by for a visit!