Our almost fourteen-year old granddaughter was recently up at camp, which allowed us to have a second year of driving lessons on our back woods roads. (Year one I described here.)
We stuck with the one-hour sessions that we discovered last year worked well. After one refresher lesson using the automatic transmission Subaru, we spent the rest of the time this year in the stick-shift Subaru. Since she knew the routine, I didn’t have to pay quite as much attention to the minutia of what was happening at each second. Left to its own devices, my mind tends to wander; it likes to contrast and compare. I considered the ways learning to drive and learning to write have a lot in common.
Think about what it takes to drive a stick-shift car. A new driver must learn to start a heavy hunk of metal and plastic from a dead stop, coordinating their feet to accomplish the task, but using vision and hearing to supplement what they feel with their feet. Then they must keep the car in their lane (or in our case in the road, since it is only one-lane), accelerate, avoid potholes (or rocks), signal for turns, watch out for other cars and critters, remember to downshift before turning—slow down more for right-hand turns than left-hand turns—check the rearview mirror and side-view mirrors from time-to-time, depress the clutch again as you gently break to a stop. And more, much more.
Yet in time, the whole driving process becomes routine. I insert the key, depress the clutch, and turn the ignition switch without a considered thought. I have already adjusted the seat, checked the mirrors, and fastened the seatbelt around me.
I smoothly start the car, check for traffic before pulling out, accelerate depending on the conditions, shift when needed—both up and down, etc. etc. I am constantly checking my surroundings, and I almost always arrive without incident at exactly the place I intended.
Now consider a new driver learning to drive a stick-shift and compare it to my experiences as a new writer.
I fumbled mightily on how to start my novels. I was often tentative and the story stalled out before it began, or I raced into the action, equivalent to the airplane roar of an accelerator pressed too hard while the clutch is still engaged. Very dramatic, but not satisfying, and again the novel would not move forward.
Once I succeeded in starting the novel, I had to worry about dialogue and description and internal thoughts and point of view and plot. Depending on what I had most recently learned, I would concentrate on that aspect of writing and neglect some of my earlier lessons.
My endings were sometimes too abrupt, coming to a choppy halt. Or sometimes they dragged on too long and I overshot my mark.
Even when I mastered driving, accidents can and do still happen. My granddaughter had the opportunity to learn how to change a tire after hitting a rock a bit harder than intended! It was a chance opportunity (it certainly wasn’t designed!) to learn a skill that she will, hopefully, not often need; but having done it, the process of changing a tire is no longer scary.
Learning to drive a car or write a novel both involve mastering myriad little things. With sufficient driving practice their integration becomes routine and at some point the passenger doesn’t even think about the driving, just the trip. With sufficient writing practice, the reader becomes oblivious to how the author writes and simply enjoys the ride.