Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How writing is like learning to drive. Just go with me again...

Quick reminder: you only have until noon PST tomorrow to enter for a signed ARC of Original Sin!

So yesterday you got my post on how a good critique partner should be like a tough volleyball coach. Today, you get my bit about how writing is like learning to drive.

My oldest just took her first driving lesson yesterday. Here she is:
(I snapped that picture out the window on the sly, cuz she was already so nervous.)

I remember the first time I got behind the wheel of a car. I was fourteen. (I so hope my mother isn't reading this...) I like to think of myself as a fairly intelligent person, whether it's true or not. I generally pick up new skills fairly easily. By the time I was fourteen, I'd been watching my parents drive for a long time, so I was pretty sure I understood the mechanics of the whole thing. One day when my dad was at work and my mom had taken my sister somewhere, I decided to take my sister's car out for a spin. (There was a reason my dad always thought I'd be the one they'd have to bail out of jail.) So, I got behind the wheel, stuck the key in the ignition, and started the car.

So far so good.

I put the car in reverse and managed to back it out of the garage and down the driveway. Then I put it in gear and off I went. I was quite responsible for being so irresponsible, and drove very slowly, cuz, let's face it, if I crashed, my parents would find out what I'd done. Now that I think back on it, I'd be surprised if I got much over ten miles an hour. I can't remember exactly how far I went, but I'm pretty sure I just went to the end of my road and back. Whatever it was, I was sure I was doing it with the utmost skill.

I never got caught (I hope my kids aren't reading this...) so there's no big moral, EXCEPT...this:

Just because I had a basic sense of the mechanics of the whole thing, that didn't automatically make me a great driver, just like understanding the basic mechanics of what goes into a novel doesn't automatically make you a great writer.

When I decided I was going to write a book two and a half years ago, I'd read a lot (just like I'd watched my parents drive a lot) so I had a sense of what needed to go into my novel. I had a general plot (my road map) and I followed it. When I was done, I had a 120K word masterpiece. The good news, I'd written it for my daughter, never to be queried. If I'd decided to query it, just like if I'd decided to take my sister's car out onto the highway that first day, I'd have crashed and burned.

There's more to great writing than understanding the mechanics. It's the intangibles that make a story sing, such as style and voice. And, those intangibles only come with practice. When I started Personal Demons eight months after I starting that first book, I had two novels under my belt. I'd read some more in the genre I wanted to write in. I'd read Steven King's On Writing, which gave me a sense of what those intangibles were. I'd invested in a writer's conference, where I met my amazing critique partner. In short, I had more experience and was ready for highway speeds.

So, my second bit of writing advice for those of you aspiring to publication: BE PATIENT. It's so hard, I know. You're truly in love with your book and your characters. You want to share them with the world. Reality is, you'll have a much better chance of that happening if you shelve it and work on a new project. Write another, unrelated book. You'll learn some things, get up to highway speed, and, like me, when you go back to re-read your original masterpiece, you may find what you thought was a Renoir is really a finger painting. You can bring your newfound skills to that work of art and make it into the Renoir you thought you wrote. By this time you'll also have found yourself an amazing critique partner or group that you can send it off to, and they can tell you were there are still smudges in the paint. And, best part, you'll have another novel that you can turn around and do the same thing with when you're done. How can you go wrong?


  1. Very true, great analogy Lisa!

    And man, Kylie has been 15 since January, but she won't take driver's ed. She's terrified. She does have pretty bad vision, but still, you need to get your license, kid!

  2. LOL I love the Renoir/finger painting analogy. Excellent advice!!

  3. This is so true! I always thought my first novel would be the next Harry Potter (c'mon, we all thought that about our first novels, right?), but now I look back and all I see is infodumping, telling, scenes without defined goals, and horribly predictable plot devices.

    But just the fact that I know what those things are now, doesn't make me a master writer. I may be better, but unless I keep learning, keep writing, and keep reading, I will never to where I want to be: a published author.

    Great post, Lisa!

  4. Another great analogy! I didn't get my license until I was 22, so I've only had it for 4 years now.

  5. What a great post, Lisa. When I go back and read what I thought were my "masterpieces" of ten years ago, I thank my lucky stars that no editor was crazy enough to accept them. As you say, I would have crashed and burned.

  6. Does that mean my WIP will NOT be the next Harry Potter? *tearing up* Life its so cruel! (Seriously, great post:))