When I was still in prep school - 14, 15 - I started keeping notebooks, journals. I started writing, almost like landscape drawing or life drawing. I never kept a diary, I never wrote about my day and what happened to me, but I described things.
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I believe you have constructive accidents en route through a novel only because you have mapped a clear way. If you have confidence that you have a clear direction to take, you always have confidence to explore other ways; if they prove to be mere digressions, you'll recognize that and make the necessary revisions.