As my car and my body struggled to deal with the below zero temperatures yesterday morning, I started to think about how writing is a lot like maintaining a car.
For one thing in cold weather, it’s not a good idea to let your engine sit for more than few days without being run or it’ll complain the next time you try to turn it on. Similarly, writing works best when you’re doing it often in regular sustained bursts. When you “turn the key” so to speak, on your next post or the next chapter of your novel, the words are more likely to flow naturally if it hasn’t been that long since the last time you took your writing out for a spin.
Similarly, you can get a lot of carbon build up in an engine if all you do is city driving. Sometimes you need to take a car out on the highway to get rid of that grime. With writing the equivalent of this is to practice different kinds of writing. If all I did was write blog posts, or sit sequestered in a room working on my novel, eventually my mind would start to get filled with crud. One type of writing can help free up gunk that’s built up in other types.
If it’s been a really long time since you’ve driven a car, like 18 months or more, one of the first things you need to do is put some new gas in the tank, and maybe even drain some of the old gas out. This is kind of how it feels to go back to anything you’ve written more than maybe a year or two ago, especially as you’re developing as a writer. Something that looked tight and provocative to you when you wrote it will look horrible to you a little later. Here’s the only problem, you’re not always right. Sometimes we can over tinker, change the grades of gasoline or try a bunch of additives, when really all we need is a fresh tank.
Every now and again we need to assess how things are going with our writing. Is it worth putting more money or time into this car, or should we get a new one? This doesn’t mean giving up driving, it just might mean going in a different direction. If you’ve been trying your hand at genre fiction for a long time, and it really isn’t getting you anywhere, maybe it’s time to try writing something else. Then again, maybe not. Some people get 300,000 miles or more out of their cars (personally I’d love to hit the moon with mine, but it’s a Ford so that’s unlikely).
We do regular maintenance on cars and we should do regular maintenance on writing as well. Whether it’s writing exercises, or reading good books, there are things that help us to keep running more than just the practice of writing. You wouldn’t drive a car without ever changing the oil, or the brake pads or the tires. Why would you write without reading books? Sure you don’t have time, but eventually something may happen that will cause you to need to make the time.
Lastly, it is possible for an engine to overheat, particularly if it’s been driving at 70 or above for 10 hours or so. Taking breaks is just as important, sometimes more so. We can’t operate at peak speed forever, we need to slow down. I’ve been feeling this a lot with the two week cycle of The Sky Below, and I relish the Thursday and Friday after a chapter is released where I don’t really think about it. I need the recharge before I can keep going.
Keep driving and keep writing. And pray for spring!