Sunday, 9 January 2011

Writing and Driving

The other day I remembered something from learning how to drive, and I think the same concept can be applied in writing. Go with me on this. There is a point, even if the two topics seem completely unrelated.

I’ll take you back to when I was learning how to drive. I'd had over ten lessons, and one lesson I set out to try and get most things – if not everything – right. Although I hadn’t been doing too badly up until then, I kept making silly mistakes, and I constantly went wrong on the same things. On that one day, I wanted to be perfect.

I had an awful lesson. Everything that could have gone wrong in that lesson did. I was trying to stop making these mistakes and to do better, and whenever I screwed up I would get even angrier with myself. Near the end of the lesson, my instructor told me I looked exhausted. He was right. Though he had laughed off everything and hadn’t let it get to him, I had. I felt like a failure. I went home and cried my eyes out about how awful a lesson it had been.

Due to booking the lessons the previous week, I had another driving lesson the next day. Despite being upset about yesterday's events, I told myself I couldn’t avoid going straight back into the driving seat, and I refused to let it burden me. It was a new day, and I went into the lesson expecting nothing of myself or the way the lesson would pan out.

That lesson was one of the best ones I’d ever had. I wasn’t frustrated or angry with myself; I made hardly any mistakes; I was calmer and surprisingly more confident than before. I knew I was a good driver. Yesterday was just one of those days, and my driving instructor told me exactly the same thing. When we got out of the car at the end of the lesson, he told me he’d expected my confidence to be broken. He was surprised I’d had the courage to get straight back in the car and move on.

Everybody has those days, the ones where everything has to go wrong. After that lesson, I became a better, more confident driver. I still made mistakes, and although I became irritated with myself sometimes, I didn't let it affect me. A skiing accident shattered my confidence in my abilities when I was younger and I wasn’t going to have the same thing happen again.

Now, here’s where this relates to writing. Sometimes, everything you want to go right in a manuscript goes completely wrong. Whether it’s a certain scene, the plot, or a character who refuses to do what you want – things go wrong. You make mistakes. But you can’t swear off writing because of it. You can’t decide to give up; if you want to get anywhere in publishing, you have to be determined. Making all those mistakes – even if you hated every second of it – will help you. Though it may not stop you from making the same mistake later, the experience will teach you how to avoid them next time. The awful mistakes you made in the past will make you a better writer in the future.

In driving, and in writing, occasionally it has to get worse before it gets any better. You have to have an awful lesson to have a great one. You have to write a horrible scene to write a better one later. The thing to remember is you can’t give up. Face the problem directly, instead of being too scared to make the same mistake when you try again. Looking back, you might even be grateful for it.

Has anybody else had a similar experience with writing?


  1. There have been times where I didn't necessarily make a mistake, but I felt like what I had done was just complete and utter crap. And I have a pretty bad complex with not being the best (even when it's just me).

    When I have moments like those, I want to just give up and call it quits, but I always remind myself that I can change it. That's not the last time I'm going to touch the piece and I can make it better.

    Generally that means deleting everything I just wrote... much to my writing partner's chagrin.

    This is a great post, Kiara. I never would've thought to make an analogy between driving and writing, but there definitely is one!

  2. Yeah I have days like that when nothing goes right. Everyone has, I think. When it happens with writing, it is really really depressing and it's hard to resist the temptation to to edit. :)Sometimes I have to before I can go on. Sometimes I just dump everything I wrote in a trash word file and usually when I go back to it later, it is not as bad as I thought it was.

  3. I like your analogy. Mastering any skill, be it driving or writing, is a constant learning-and-practising process. Fueled by determination, that process slowly gets us to our destination. Learning by trial and error isn't usually the most productive way, either, so your analogy also works to remind us to learn not only from our mistakes by by listening to others. Nicely done. :)

  4. Devin: I can relate, I always try and strive for the best in most things I do, so when it doesn't go as well as I want I take it personally. Exactly, that's all you can do. Maybe deleting everything isn't always the answer, just try your best to correct the mistakes you made. We can't always be perfect, as much as we would like to be.

    Sonia: Definitely, especially when you know that something isn't right there. It can help to correct the mistakes you made, but it can also be one of those times when you think everything is wrong until you get a new perspective. I usually take a short time away from it before I press the backspace. Us writers are so critical of ourselves - it's hard not to get overwhelmed by it.

    Carol: Thank you. You're completely right, I don't think either process is something you compeltely give up. There's always small ways to improve and hone your skills. Advice from others is incredibly helpful as well; everybody needs support now and then.