Tuesday, February 2, 2010

How Writing is like Winter Driving

So, apparently Mr. Phil the Punxsatawney Groundhog saw his plump little shadow this morning, setting us up for six more weeks of winter. Given that I live in Indiana, I was already prepped for at least eight more weeks. I grew up in northern Indiana, so I learned quite a bit about driving on nasty winter roads--and then moved to southern Indiana where the winters aren't as bad but they don't really believe in plows. All this driving on slippery, icy, snowy roads got me thinking--about how it's a lot like writing.

Yes, this does carry shades of "How is a raven like a writing desk?" But stick with me. When driving in wintry conditions, a few bits of advice:
  1. Avoid the well-travelled roads. At least until the plows get out. It's counterintuitive, but driving on the snow-covered roads is a lot easier than driving on the roads that have been milled into slush by every passing motorist. That greyish sludge of frequent travel gives much worse traction than fresh snow. And so it is with writing--if you do the same thing as everyone else, it's going to be harder to gain a foothold. Don't do the stuff that's already been done to death--sure, it might be hot now, but what's going to let you shine is something original.
  2. If you find yourself sliding, no sudden movements. That includes slamming on the brakes. You might need to let up on the gas a little, but you'll only make problems worse--in your manuscript or on the road--if you try to correct with a major overhaul all at once. On the road, if you slide, let up on the gas, steer slowly out of the slide, but don't crank the wheel or overcorrect or hit the brakes hard. In your writing, when you notice a proble--plot gap, character hole, whatever the case may be--slow down a little, but gain perspective before hacking things to bits.
  3. Try to avoid stopping whenever possible. Dirty little secret of driving in snow--don't stop. Don't stop at stop signs, don't stop at red lights. Clearly, don't run them--slow down to a crawl. Sometimes you do have to stop. But when you can keep moving, however slowly, you run much less chance of losing traction and spinning your wheels. Same goes with writing. It's much harder to get started again when you come to a complete stop, at least in my experience.
  4. Practice, and make your mistakes where it doesn't matter. A colleague at work who recently moved from California asked what she should do about learning to drive in snow. I told her to wait for the next snowstorm, then go to a big, open parking lot and drive. A lot. Do stupid things like those outlined in number 2 above, especially slamming on the brakes. See what it takes to make the car slide, and how to correct yourself when that happens. Think of first drafts and to an even greater extent writing prompts and creative writing exercises like the big open parking lot of perfecting your skill. You can screw up here and no one cares. You can whip a complete literary donut and if the piece careens out of control, it's ok--you're not going to hit anything. And if you can learn to spot the mistakes here--and how to fix them--you can do so when you're writing out on the open road.

Safe travels, everyone! How do you feel about a longer winter--enjoying every snowy moment or ready for the crocuses to spring?


Carrie C said...

Good analogies! I like the images - next time I'm feeling like my writing is skidding, I'll remember not to make any sudden movements. :)

(Your comment on my blog made me laugh out loud, btw! Thanks for visiting!)

Connie said...

Having moved from Connecticut to Chattanooga, I've also had the no plows experience--it's much more dangerous. And it's a series of great metaphors for writing and editing. Thanks.

Arabella said...

ugh, I can't stand the snow, but I'm going to be silly and compare my writing life to a blizzard. I mean, really, I just can't see more than a few feet in front of me when I write, and it makes me insane.
Yours are good analogies, I think.

Rowenna said...

Hi Carrie! Hope you don't slide out on your writing anytime soon :)

Connie--I know, I'll take a foot of snow in the north over an inch down here in the south.

Arabella--writing as a whiteout blizzard, I love the imagery!

missbluestocking said...

Hmmm I have never driven before so I wouldn't know. But wonderful analogy! And if I were to use this analogy, the state that I'm in right now with my book is--IN A DITCH! ahhhhhhhhhh. Ok. Not so bad. But this waiting period for agents to respond is really getting to my nerves.

kathleenwall said...

I love the analogies! I'm "sliding" a bit right now with my MS... no sudden movements for me. LOL.