Julia and the Purple Crayon

I made it to the Jersey Pike
even without the purple path!
Whenever I go on a road trip, which is a lot these days, I rely on “Nuvi” (my GPS) to tell me which way to go. I just follow the purple path on Nuvi’s screen. That said, sometimes Nuvi does not give me the most direct path to follow—as is the case when I go to pick up my daughter from college and “she” sends me on a circuitous route to get from the Garden State Parkway to the Jersey Pike.
And by “she,” I mean Nuvi (not my daughter). It’s a female voice, so why not?
But I digress. The point is, this time before I left home I looked at a map so I could deviate (with confidence) from the path Nuvi directed me to take. Still, when I came close to the exit (.9 miles to be exact) Nuvi kept telling me to take the purple path on her screen. And I felt a sense of uncertainty and panic. Her voice, after all, is rather insistent and commanding. And I was, after all, surrounded by a zillion cars.

I couldn’t help but wonder: do I trust myself enough to go off Nuvi’s purple path?

It reminded me of what I’m going through with my fiction right now. I’m in the midst of revising a mystery novel I finished two months ago. And I’m also planning my next WIP—women’s fiction with dark, thriller overtones. But then something happened. Two weeks ago I had an idea for a new story—an idea that would cause me to deviate from my writing plan. And because of the age of the two main characters and the story’s premise, it makes sense it would be written as a Young Adult novel.

I’ve never written YA before, so this means going to an entirely new genre. My internal writer’s voice is telling me in no uncertain terms to not deviate from my plan, my map. And her voice, much like Nuvi’s, is rather insistent and commanding.
Yet here’s the thing: I can’t stop thinking about this new story. Not only has the whole thing come together very quickly, but it is also consuming my writing mind. And to be completely honest I’m already a bit in love with the premise and the MCs. Nonetheless, I’m also not entirely comfortable with going off the familiar terrain of the novel I’d already planned to write. Just like when I considered avoiding the path Nuvi directed me to take to the Jersey Pike, this time I’m contemplating taking a trip through unfamiliar writing terrain.

And I wonder: do I trust myself enough to go off the purple path?

Much like the iconic children’s book Harold and the Purple Crayon when Harold draws his own path with a purple crayon, I took my crayon in hand and followed my own path. In short, I trusted myself to go off Nuvi’s directions and found my own way to the Jersey Pike. . . I made it!

But what about the writing dilemma? I don’t have a map to consult, to see the end point. Nor even an objective Nuvi telling me where to go, something to blindly follow. So this time, as I take my purple crayon in hand, I’m firmly on my own. Just like Harold’s, my path is a constantly changing landscape, fraught with uncertainty, my final destination unclear.

What about you? If you come up with a new idea off your planned route (in writing or on a road trip…or life) are you comfortable deviating? Is it an easy decision or one that’s tough to make?



  1. CMSmith says:

    Never stifle your creative muse. It’s a gift, and beats out all left brain planning. Take it and run with it.

  2. Erika Marks says:

    Why didn’t we think of this before, Julia? A GPS for writers???!! Oh, right. Because it CAN”T be that easy, right?

    I am always second-guessing my process in writing, sure there must be a way to get from point A to B more efficiently, but I don’t know.

    Then again, our GPS has been known to take us off the beaten path plenty of times:)

    • Now THAT would be an awesome invention. I once considered having MEH help me write software to “create the next big bestseller.” Can you imagine? It really can’t be that easy. As for the second guessing, we’re twins that way. I’ll arm wrestle for Queen of Second Guessing honors 🙂 p.s. I know exactly what you mean about being taken off the beaten path, us too!

  3. Go with your story idea. Some of the best ideas come on a whim, right? Besides, I just read that the YA and Children’s book market grew 41% last year, with many of the YA sales going to adult women. It is a huge market.

    • I had read that too, Karen! It’s pretty encouraging (and crazy) stats, right? And THANK YOU for your encouragement. I’m leaning, I’m almost falling… as you say, some of the best ideas come on a whim!

  4. What a great post. I agree with the others: if the purple-crayoned muse has come out to play, you must at least hear what she has to say! Loved the analogy (I have that very same GPS, by the way — my mom bought it for me, specifically to use during my Betty adventures. I named mine “Gretel,” though — you know, helping me follow the white pebbles home).

    I think you should charge forward with gusto and embrace this new idea that has you so creatively enthused.

    • You made a rhyme!! “If the purple-crayoned muse has come out to play/you must at least hear what she has to say!” Thank you for the encouragement, Melissa! I am “this close” to embracing away 🙂 p.s. Gretel is a PERFECT name for a gps! I confess, I got my name from the box (and technically THIS Nuvi is called Nu-Nuvi because she’s our second). I love that your mom gave the gps to you… so you can always find your way home!

  5. This is a great analogy! Yes, I agree with everyone else; if your muse keeps bugging you, it’s time to listen. Sometimes in the past when things like this happen to me, I’ve just written it very quickly. NaNoWriMo is coming up, and is perfect for things like this. Just pound out the draft in a month to get it out of your system and make way to get you back on your normal track. Then you can decide later what to do with your results. =)

    • Annie! That’s such a good idea! I’ve never done NaNoWriMo, but this might just be the perfect project to give it a try. My only hesitation is if I need to do research, but there’s no harm in doing what I can. Thank you for the encouragement and for the suggestion!

  6. Take your purple crayon and follow the new path! In my opinion, good YA is simply a good book. I’m sure others would disagree with me, but I say follow your heart and write the new story, if that’s what’s calling to you the most.

    I finally had to change the voice on my Nuvi to the male option, because her voice was too sarcastic and annoying every time I deviated from her proscribed path. “Recalculating” sound like “”Recalculating you stupid %$#!, why can’t you follow directions?!” The male voice is much more pleasant.

    So, deviate, my friend. And consider taking a road trip in my direction one of these days.


    • It’s interesting that I’ve been thinking that same thing about YA (especially now that it’s so widely read and such a growing market).

      As for Nuvi’s voice–I WOULD change but this voice is the only one that also says the street names (the others just give directions) and I need that. AND this New-Nuvi does NOT say when it’s recalculating and I miss that! Instead, it just silently recalculates and suddenly it adds some huge number of minutes (usually a zillion) to the arrival time. Annoying! I miss the recalculating reminder!

      And one of these days I will take you up on the road trip in your direction, friend! 🙂

  7. What a great story! I really relate to this right now. Except not about forging a different a path from the GPS. I’m already lost just thinking about that. 🙂

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Sara, and that you can relate. I know what you mean about feeling lost without the GPS. I think it’s one of my very favorite inventions of all time and I’d be hopelessly lost without it (and thank goodness I had it as a back up when I went off the purple path 🙂

  8. Emma Pass says:

    How exciting! (Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I? ;)) It’s always scary when you dive into something new and unknown, but I would rather try new things than spend my life wondering whether I *should* have tried them (which is how I ended up writing YA, weirdly enough). Good luck, and keep us posted!

    • When you put it that way, Emma, it makes perfect sense that I’d follow my new idea — I’ve always lived my life trying new things than waiting and wondering and feeling like “I could’a would’a should’a.” Excellent advice. And I’m happy to know it’s a similar way you came to start writing YA! Thank you for your support!

  9. I say just start writing and let the muse take you where it wants to go. I love when an idea or a story line pops into my head. It may take me off the course I had planned but it is like discovering a treasure. Have fun exploring!

    • That’s such a wonderful way to put it, Hallie “like discovering a treasure.” I LOVE that. I am indeed having fun exploring this new premise and genre. It’s invigorating! And I love it, too, when a story pops in my head. Thanks for the encouragement, my friend 🙂

  10. My Garmin sometimes leads me astray too. It once led me way out into the desert about a quarter of an hour from the destination I was aiming for!
    The thing about writing is we really are on our own, aren’t we? There’s no one to tell us if we’re going astray, because no one else can see inside our act of creation (much as they might THINK they can). In my writers’ group we’ve had to step back and check how we critique first drafts, as opposed to subsequent drafts, because first drafts are an exploration of plot and character, and nobody other than the writer really knows if it’s going where it should , or not. But the temptation of critiquers is always to try and guide the plot, sometimes to the detriment of the novel. Recognizing this we now do a different kind of critique for first drafts.
    I say, go for it, Julia. Listen to what excites you. The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work out as you thought, which is no big deal. The best that can happen is it turns out great. =)

    • THANK YOU, Cynthia. What you say makes such great sense — and I love that your writers’ group has different critiques for first and subsequent drafts. That’s so wise! And thank you for your encouragement to listen to what excites me…. as you say, even if the worst happens and it doesn’t work out, it’s no big deal! And while I explore, I’ll be expecting the best! Thanks again!

  11. I love to read YA novels. Teenagers are very interested in ethical questions and great YA fiction does an excellent job of exploring them. I think you should definitely follow that voice and I agree with Annie that banging out a manuscript during NANO is the perfect way to let your creative mind play.


    If you think you’re captivated by this new story idea because you’re avoiding something in your current WIP, promise yourself that you’ll go back to it as soon as NANO is over.

    • Oh, Shary, you really read between the lines on this one! I have to say that although I’m not really avoiding anything, I am having some trouble connecting the dots with my planned WIP and feeling a bit worn out with revisions on the first draft WIP. So, you make a very good and valid point: to promise myself to return to the revision once I pursue the shiny new WIP. Thank you for supporting my excitement while at the same time grounding me in reality! (p.s. I am so glad to hear you love to read YA novels — me too!)

  12. I think my last comment got eaten by a gremlin, so forgive me if this is a duplicate…

    Anyway, just wanted to relate a very similar experience. I had just started the first draft of a new women’s fiction novel when my brain got kidnapped by a new idea for a dystopian fantasy–a trilogy, no less! Not only was this a genre in which I’d never written (and truthfully, hadn’t really read much in, other than The Hunger Games), but it was a massive, sprawling idea that spanned three books.

    Needless to say, I was a little scared by it. I felt safe sticking to the novel I’d already started, especially since I’d wanted to write it for a while. But this one kept calling my name. The characters really resonated with me and I knew there was something special about the premise. If I could pull it off–and I was terrified I didn’t have the chops to do it–I knew it could be something really spectacular.

    The idea just wouldn’t let go and finally, I bit the bullet and pressed pause on the novel I’d started to start brainstorming and outlining this one. Much to my surprise, the ideas poured out, and within a few weeks, I had a detailed outline for book 1 and high-level synopses for books 2 and 3, not to mention random scenes scattered throughout the trilogy. Three months after the original seed of an idea came into my brain and took root, I’m now well underway in the first draft of book 1, and I have never experience a writing flow like this one.

    I feel as though I’m in love–properly–for the first time. All the other times (all those other novels, completed and attempted) were lovely, but they were really more infatuation. This is the real deal. Every cell in my body was telling me so.

    When you get a powerful gut reaction like that, I think you owe it to yourself to at least explore it. Give yourself a week or two to really delve into it. If nothing else, you’ll get it out of your system, and worst case scenario, you’ll have taken a very short detour from your main path. But if by chance this is where your muse is taking you, you might have just stumbled upon THE idea, and you won’t want to look back on this years from now and wonder what if you’d just worked on it when it first came to you.

    See where it takes you, I say :).

    • Jennifer, thank you so much for being so patient and persistent with your comment(s)! I know Blogger can have issues and it’s so kind of you to make sure I was able to read your encouraging words. I can relate so well to every word you said! What I didn’t say in this post is that this YA idea I have is also historical/paranormal in nature, which is a genre I have rarely read let alone would have ever considered writing. So I can truly understand when you say you were scared because you’d only read The Hunger Games. And like you, too, my idea won’t let go, and I do feel like I’m properly in love — a great way to put it. As you say, I owe it to myself to explore the YA idea, which I will definitely now do — I’ve gotten so much encouragement from all these comments! Thank you so much, again, for your comment and for your visit to my blog. It’s so nice to meet you and to hear of your personal experiences with a similar situation!

    • So exciting! Good luck with the idea–what an adventure it will be :). I’ll be following your journey with it!

  13. Nina says:

    I’m excited for you! It’s not every day that an idea sort of “takes off” and comes together like this. I can’t wait to see where this path takes you.

  14. Ann says:

    Your timing is incredible! I’m thinking about writing a story on “The Road Less Traveled” and the adventure we found there. Our GPS had us going off the main freeway onto a road that was a two-lane-road-to-the-long-way-there….but we decided, this time, to follow it! What a great time we had driving the long way!

    That being said – I LOVE my GPS and I’m more than happy to “go with my gut” and let the blasted thing recalculate!

    Sometime the GPS speaks to me, and sometimes I choose to ignore her!

    • Ann! Now why doesn’t it surprise me that you and I are once again on the same wavelength? That’s fabulous that you followed the GPS and had an adventure, I love that! I honestly couldn’t live without mine at this point, eve though as you say — what’s wrong with a little recalculation? 🙂 So glad to see you Ann!! Can’t wait to read “The Road Less Traveled”!!

  15. What a great analogy, Julia. Go with the YA story idea, definitely. I always listen to that voice, and she is always right 😉

  16. lisa ahn says:

    I named our GPS “Maggie” — but she comes with a mute button, so I just turn her off if I want to deviate from the path. I say, follow your purple crayon, Julia. Turn the GPS to mute. 🙂
    (I’m in awe of your ability to work through and complete projects — have you done three WIPs this year?? You rock, lady!!)

    • I am very partial to the name Maggie (the protagonist in my mystery novel is Maggie!!)… I love the mute idea! Exactly! (I don’t do it in the car because… well, I’m apparently a wimp 🙂 But for the WIPs, Nuvi is muted as of today! (As for my WIPs, THANK YOU for making my day, you’re so sweet. BUT, will you still think I rock when I tell you I’m only on #2 for the year? The YA will be my third…and right now it seems impossible to believe I could finish by year’s end, but… who knows?)

    • lisa ahn says:

      Well, considering that I am reworking the same old novel for the xbillionth time, I will definitely still say YOU ROCK for “only” having completely two WIPS, with two more sketched out in your head. Yeah, pretty much ROCK!)
      p.s. I’m glad you kept Maggie as Maggie. Love that name.

  17. Barb Riley says:

    Some really great advice here. Just about everyone is encouraging you to go for it, and I have to agree. Whoever brought up NaNo is onto something b/c you can bang out a draft (without research) and in one short month’s time, you’ll know whether it’s pursuable. In fact, you can even prepare an outline (if that’s your style) these next couple of days so you have a rough idea of where you’ll go with it.

    What is it about YA, anyway? This past year, I have really gotten into it. The storytelling is more direct and less flowery (word economy?) and I just love the explosion of new authors out there. I hope you’ll share with us what you decide to do.

    • Thanks for your encouragement, Barb!! (Great to see you!!) I agree, great advice, and yes, outlines are definitely my style and I’ve got some frameworks down, so that’s good! As for YA — I’ve read that it’s really big right now. And I love the genre, too. I’ve read some great YA books lately, but would love to hear of more if you have some good suggestions. You can count on updates, too! 🙂

  18. Oh my goodness, Julia! I am going through this right now. I wish I could talk to you. 🙂
    I was well into my next novel, about 50 pages I’d say. It’s set in Brooklyn with a middle-aged curmudgeon as the MC. (Thinly veiled autobiography anyone? HA!)

    But then… then I got an idea for another story. I think I mentioned it on my blog as set in the French countryside between the wars. I know NOTHING about this time period. Or France. Or French. Or the job that the MC is doing.

    So I wrote a story story about it. Minimal research required. Minimal scariness about my inexperience.Minimal intimidation. It was a good story. I thought that was the end. I’m done with that topic. Whew.

    But it keeps coming back. She keeps talking to me. She wants her story to be told. And my main reader said that this is the story I should be writing next. I need to table the Brooklyn story for now. Now I have to start an amazing amount of research on a topic I know nothing about.

    I’m planning to take it Bird By Bird as Anne Lamott says. Actually I’m hoping to start with the characters. That is universal.

    How are you planning to move forward? Did you read some YA genre stories? Good luck!

    • How I wish we COULD sit down and talk about this! That would be so great. How interesting that the same thing happened to you — I remember you mentioning the short story on your blog, I didn’t know it was turning into more. LIke your story, mine also will require a lot of research. One of the topics I know a little about, another next to nothing and it’s pretty medically technical. And it involves writing in a style I’ve never tried before (early American). So we really are in very similar places. Crazy, huh? I am planning to read a lot (more) of YA. I love the genre. I’m also planning to read a lot of early American novels and diaries… lots to research (which I love, so that’s good!).

  19. This resonated with me so much, Julia! Just last night, I woke up and “diverted” from a writing path I’ve been on for the past eight months. I’m a little scared by this new direction, but terribly excited, too. Take the road less taken, eh? Even if it’s a road just previously trodden by ourselves. 🙂

    • I’m so happy it resonated with you, Jolina, and that I have company on my new road. 🙂 It is a little scary but as you say SO exciting too. And now that I’ve heard from other writers that it’s happened to them, too, I’m so interested and curious about how and why it happens! Hmmm…. another blog 🙂

  20. So much if writing decisions come from the gut that your trusting yours probably makes the most sense for you with the YA work. Good luck!

    • Thanks for your encouragement (and your comment!), and I agree — a lot of writing decisions, and even non-writing ones, come from the gut. Here’s to the ability to trust myself!

  21. I sort of have to deviate to satisfy my muse. I write across three genres because my tastes are so eclectic. I find deviation to be rewarding, even if doesn’t work out the way I plan. I always learn something about myself and my writing, so I never consider it a waste of time. Good luck on your new venture! I hope you have a fantastic experience! 😀

    • I think it’s so cool that you write across three genres — and I’m beginning to understand that perhaps my tastes are eclectic, too. And although I am so excited to do this, I am also very nervous that I’m spreading myself too thin. Thanks for your encouragement and for sharing your own experiences, it really helps me. 🙂

  22. I’m just a bit jealous. I say “Go for it” and can’t wait to hear more about this story as it develops.

    • Thanks for your encouragement and support, Jamie! And don’t be jealous, just join me in an exploration of new writing possibilities 🙂 Thank you for your interest in hearing more as it develops…. will do!

  23. eva natiello says:

    You’ve been bitten by the bug. That bug does not fly through everyone’s door. Nor does it stay forever if you’re lucky enough for it to bite you. Strike while the iron is hot, Julia! Write that story! You’ll find your way, and don’t worry, you won’t be alone because your characters will help you.

    And if you really get lost, I’m sure you’ll hear those words in your head “recalculating…”

    • Thank you for your encouragement and support — it’s so wonderful to have such a supportive writing community all around me (in addition to my characters!). And, no doubt you’re so right… I can always wait until I hear “recalculating…” 🙂 Thanks for your comment and for your visit to my blog, Eva!