Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Writing is like. . .



"It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." E.L. Doctorow

That famous piece of advice about writing sees me through many a tough place when I panic because I don't know where my story is going. At those moments, I put myself behind the wheel of an imaginary car on a road at night--just like the one above--and I think, "Okay, I can't see very far ahead, but I *can* see this far." Then I advise myself, "Write to the end of the headlights." Sometimes the car and the headlights keep moving on down the road, revealing more of the story bit by bit. That's a great relief. I can keep writing like that. Sometimes a deer bounds across the road, figuratively speaking, startling me. Sometimes the car keeps moving but the headlights mysteriously go out. That's scary! Sometimes, everything breaks down. And my cell phone won't work. And here come a rough-looking pair of guys in an old pickup truck. But now and then Doctorow's advice works really well for me in a straightforward and simple fashion. So I pass it along today in case there are any writers reading this who need it as much as I do today.

27 comments:

Beth said...

That's how I explain writing to folks who don't understand the process - and who are baffled when I report that my characters do something unexpected. Like the deer bounding across the road. I love the image - and it's so fitting!

Off to Maine - I don't think I've ever been the first to comment! Hope it's as beautiful where you are as it is here in NH - gorgeous day. Enjoy, everyone! I'll check in tomorrow.

Nancy P said...

Wish I were dirving with you today, Beth. I hope it's all pretty scenery and charming towns and friendly natives.

And yes! When "characters do something unexpected" is precisely what I was thinking of with my deer image. We will never look at "roadkill" again in the same way. Poor dead characters whose writers were too much in a hurry to get somewhere fast.

Family Man said...

Good morning Nancy and Beth.

Things here are HOT! No getting outside except when I have to.

Nancy it looks like that road in the picture has snow on it. It must be me wishing for cooler weather. :)

Hope everyone is doing fine today.

Nancy P said...

G'morning, family man. Ha! Now I know it's deepest summer. Just yesterday a neighbor said, "This heat almost makes me wish for winter." And now you're seeing snow on the road. Drive carefully. :)

Advice for hot weather: Don't leave chocolate bars on the seat of your car.

Nancy P said...

If you'd like to cool off by seeing a beautiful photo of a lake in "New Hampster," go to Beth's blog today.

AndiF said...

Ah, now I understand why I wasn't any good as a writer -- lousy night vision combined with no depth perception. :P

Nancy P said...

No, Andi, that just means you could write speculative fiction. :p

GreenMinute said...

Today I'm just sticking my thumb in the air. If anyone is writing, please give me a ride. Thanks!

No, no, Sally. It's "breaking bread" at dinner, not water. Nice to know that Aria appreciates good company, though.

What a blog you have, Nancy! The Dalai Lama's brother in Bloomington, Indiana? Twice. Holy cow.

AndiF said...

Actually, I love speculative fiction*. I recommend A Paradigm of Earth by Candas Jane Dorsey and Halfway Human by Carolyn Ives Gilman as a couple of brilliant examples.

* It's possible that you and I have very different definitions of the term, in which case you can ignore this comment, though the book recommendations are still valid.

Nancy P said...

lol,green! But I believe "Holy Cow" is Hindu, not Buddhist. :)

Nancy P said...

Andi, thanks very much for the book recs. It's humbling how many books you guys recommend that I've never even heard of. There's a wider fictional world out there than is dreamed of in Horatio's philosophy. Or something like that.

GreenMinute said...

Mary Wallace doing laundry is a such a nice idea for a ghost.

Andi, kitchen ghosts populate a few of the first-person ghost encounters I have collected. It seems to be a place women of the house enjoy returning to. Go figure.

A respectable lady off towards to Carolina coast told me she had a haunted coffee pot in a house she rented with her husband when they were in college.

It was a chrome electric coffee pot/maker and she would occasionally see what she thought was the reflection of a witch in the mirror-like surface of the thing. That was accompanied by the sensation of suddenly not being alone.

It scared her so much she would go sit in her car in the driveway and wait until her husband came home before going back in the house.

She asked the landlord about it eventually and he told her some stuff that sort of, perhaps, explained what she was seeing: the woman in black with a black hat reflected in the surface of the coffee pot.

Any guesses?

Jungle Red Writers said...

Hi Nancy,
I'm glad I dropped by - on my way to write this morning. I think it's confidence that the quote offers, no? The promise of getting through this patch of road.
Although, I have to admit the analogy Greenminute offered is awfully tempting -- especially on a beautiful summer day. Just bag the car (scene/chapter) stick out your thumb and hitch-hike the hell out of there!
Jan Brogan

Jungle Red Writers said...

Hi Nancy,
Glad I dropped by on my way to write this morning, can definitely use the inspiration, or maybe its the confidence that quote offers. Yes, surely I can get to the end of this road (scene/chapter). But have to admit, on a beautiful summer day like today (in New England), I'm all for Greenminute's advice. Just stick out a thumb and hitchhike the hell out of here (scene/chapter).
~jan brogan

Jungle Red Writers said...

Sorry for the double post. The first time it told me I had the wrong log in-- and i thought it ate it, so started from scratch
~jan

Nancy P said...

Hi, Jan! You guys had such an interesting experiment over on your blog last week, where you asked people to try to identify the gender of some writers by their written words alone. Somebody has done a study that suggests that men consistently use certain words that tag them as male writers, and women do the same. I'll see if I can find that again.

Hey, it's a wonder I don't triple post. :)

Nancy P said...

green, coffee pot ghost!

Okay, here's my mundane guess: Did the woman who saw it have black hair, and maybe the pot elongated her image so she looked as if she wore a pointed hat? Yeah, but how to account for the wart on her nose? :)

But that can't be right, because that doesn't sound like something the landlord would tell her. Must be something to do with a previous resident?

Hmm, I'm thinking.

Nancy P said...

Jan, it was called The Gender Genie, but I think it may have disappeared, possibly from all the contempt poured on it from writers, lol. I found plenty of their indignation on google. I remember reading about it, though, and thinking there were some things I could take away from it in terms of male dialogue. Only I guess I never did, or I'd have it stored somewhere.

Nevermind. :)

Jungle Red Writers said...

Nancy,
I actually think you see most of the gender differences not in word use but when you get into a character's interior thoughts. But that's another quiz! This is a great blog and I could spend all day here -- but better force myself onto that road and turn on my headlights!
_jan

Nancy P said...

Waving at Jan as she takes off down the writing highway. . .(watch out for hitchhikers). . .

GreenMinute said...

Coffee pot ghost.

"Must be something to do with a previous resident?"

Yes! Hint: college town. And what the ghost was wearing.

AndiF said...

The Gender Genie was pretty useless. Everything I put into always came out male because I would put what I wrote for work into it -- basically it just identified the rules of more formal writing as male and those of more informal writing as female.

Ah Greenminute, I love your ghost stories (I love all spooky stories) but I'm afraid I also disbelieve all of them. I have a great deal of belief, though, in the ability of the human mind to make tangible even the most ephemeral of visions.

GreenMinute said...

but I'm afraid I also disbelieve all of them. I have a great deal of belief, though, in the ability of the human mind to make tangible even the most ephemeral of visions

I understand.

There are so many real experiences that I can't explain that I simply accept a lot of communication as existing outside that which science is able to explain.

At a natonal convention of scientists all registrants were given a survey of what they accept, or belief, as real (but whcih exists outside that which is explained by science). The belief most widely accepted as real by this group was:

That dogs know when someone (not in the presence of the dog) dies.

It's just an accepted belief. And it was right at 70% among this highly estemeed group of ph.d.'s with professional jobs in the sciences.

It seems odd to me that a majority of hard-core science types accept as true that dogs can sense a person's death and people, even close relatives, can't?? Given the size of our brains, and all.

Perception of all sorts beyond what science can measure or explain is certainly real for most people and for many a part of daily life. I don't call always call it ghosts.

But it's a handy word for direct and/or indirect communication with someone who isn't there.

Nancy P said...

Yeah, shorthand words can get in the way. I "believe" in my own experiences, for instance, in the sense that I "had" them, but that doesn't mean I have a good word to describe all of them, or that I understand what caused them, etc. I might call somnething a "ghost," but what that might really mean is, "I experienced something and the universal shorthand for it is 'ghost,' but I don't really know what it was. And yet 'it,' whatever 'it' was, sure did seem to happen to me and other people say 'it' happens to them. I wonder what it could be?"

I know what lunch is, though, and I'm going to it!

AndiF said...

Well I'm a cynical skeptic so there's cornucopia of things, including myself, for me to doubt. But I'm also an apathetic agnostic (I don't know and I don't care) about many of those same things so I'm certainly happy for people to make whatever choices they want about how and what they believe (so long, of course, as they aren't doing harm to others).

Plus I really, really like ghost stories.

Nancy P said...

I couldn't resist putting up another post today, but feel free to keep commenting on this one if you want to.

FARfetched said...

Coffee pot ghost? I'll have to say I haven't seen a solid apparition, but some weird things happened in college.

One of them was what we called the Bermuda Desk. The clutter & crap we'd piled on it reached some kind of critical mass, and it would swallow objects left on one side of the desk & spit them out about two weeks later on the other side. Doing homework on the desk involved periodically pushing the clutter back as it crept forward to engulf books, papers, or pencils. It never bothered calculators or other electronic devices though.

Nancy, Beth, I can relate to your comments about characters doing something unexpected. I had a couple that I was going to put together, and they made it happen a lot quicker than I'd planned. Sometimes you gotta just go "OK, whatever" and write around it.