Oh, the joys of writing! Just when you think you’ve got it sussed, that things are coming together, that everything’s finally working out, bang! There’s another obstacle in your path, and you have to stop, try not to panic, wrack your brains to work out who put that obstacle there and how the heck you’re going to move it. Sometimes, you wonder why you bother, but deep down, you know you bother because you care. Because it matters. Because you love it. But, boy, can it be tough going.
Those of you who have followed this blog for a long time (thank you! Aren’t you good?) may remember that – back in the mists of time – I used to have driving lessons. Those were the days. I wasn’t the most confident of drivers, but then, I’m not the most confident at anything – a fact that is pointed out to me with annoying frequency by a variety of well-meaning friends and family members. I was fifty. My mind was turning to mush. My concentration and memory weren’t as they used to be. I had – you know – stuff to deal with. All things which convinced me, deep down, that I would never pass my test. I was doomed to fail. And so I did.
The annoying thing is, I would have passed but for one stupid mistake. I went into the wrong lane at a roundabout and ended up cutting lanes which, my examiner duly informed me, was a serious error and instant failure. So that was that. Now, if I’d had a brain cell to spare, I would have sulked a bit, had a good moan about the unfairness of grumpy driving examiners, miserable weather, busy traffic, stupid roundabout rules and life in general, then I would have booked the test again and carried on with driving lessons in the meantime. But me, being me, I decided I was rubbish at driving and didn’t venture near a car again – except as an increasingly nervous passenger.
In my defence, I moved house twice within six weeks of my test – yes, honestly! – and had my daughter’s wedding to attend, and then it was Christmas…You know how it goes. So the driving got put on the back burner, and as time went on, well, my nerve just failed. I didn’t have the courage to think about taking another driving test. They were far too scary and stressful. The longer I waited, the more scared I got. It got to the point where even the thought of driving a car terrified me. What if I made a mistake? What if I hurt someone? Or worse? Cars are lethal weapons, after all. Better to stick to buses.
Hmm. People who follow me on Facebook might have become aware that my bus journeys into work every day are an ordeal. Buses running late, learner bus drivers who take forty-five minutes to complete a twenty-five minute journey, thus making me miss the second bus and causing me to be late for work, gridlocked traffic around the bus station, and a variety of, er, interesting passengers and scary encounters…No, public transport isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Not when you have to get two buses to work every day, at any rate. I was permanently stressed about it, and the recent dismal weather hasn’t helped. You get a lot of time to think, standing at bus stops in the pouring rain, watching smug people driving by in their cars. And what I was thinking, mainly, was, why the hell didn’t I retake my test?
So, almost three and a half years on from failing that first attempt, I plucked up the courage to contact my driving instructor, and, to my enormous relief, she was ready and willing to pick up where we left off. Last week, I got back into the driving seat. My hands were shaking, my heart was pounding, and my legs had turned to jelly, but I did it. Within ten minutes, the nerves had all but gone, and I was enjoying myself. Yes, I made loads of mistakes. Yes, she had to coax me along, remind me to change gear, direct me into the right lane at the roundabouts (dratted roundabouts!) but I was remembering that I used to enjoy driving. How had I forgotten?
I’ve just had my second lesson. I loved it. Yes, it was annoying because she seems intent on making me drive round every roundabout in the city, but I’m remembering now about slowing down, changing gear, getting in the right lane, checking the mirror, indicating, not going too fast…It’s coming back to me. It’s slotting into place. It’s making sense. And I know that, at some point, I’ll be ready for the driving test again, and hopefully I will pass. And if I don’t, well, I’ll take it again until I do pass. As long as I’ve learned how to drive, passing the test is just a matter of time.
And what has this got to do with writing? Well, I’ve been struggling lately with The New Book. It was all going so well at first. The words flowed, the idea seemed like a good one, I was having fun…Then, suddenly, I hit a wall. It was like, okay, but now what? I knew where I wanted to end up, but I had no idea how to get there. Reading the last scene I’d written, the other day, I realised it was a pointless scene; it didn’t further the story, it added nothing to it. It was filler. A stop gap. A way of telling myself that I was still writing and the book was moving forward. A bit like telling yourself that you have an awful lot going on, and the driving lessons can wait for a while.
Then I stopped writing all week, because I was too scared that I was making things worse. What if I wrote myself into a dead end? What if I ended up ruining all the good stuff I’d already written by adding rubbish? What if I ended up absolutely hating the whole project? You know. A bit like telling yourself that the buses are getting you to work every day, anyway, so what does it matter if you can’t drive?
Yesterday, I sat and had a long think about The New Book. I took it back to basics. What did the heroine want? What did the hero want? What was stopping them from getting what they wanted? What was this book about?
I opened a document, and I began to type. Not a new scene, but working out the answers to those questions. I looked back at the scenes I’d already written. I saw what fitted with those answers and what didn’t. I understood which parts would have to be cut, and what needed to be added to move the story forwards. I wrote a brief outline for future scenes which would keep the story moving in the right direction. The fear left me. I realised that, as long as I understood how to drive the book along, and where I was going with it, successful completion was just a matter of time.
Sometimes, you have to go backwards to move forwards. You can’t just get into a car after three and a half years and expect to be test-ready instantly. You have to relearn, remember, build yourself back up and absorb the instruction. And you can’t always write the first draft of a book from beginning to end, no matter how much you think you’ve planned it, and no matter how sure you are that you know where you’re going. You have to pause, think about it, restructure, re-plot, cut, take a deep breath…Mirror, signal, manoeuvre, and off you go again.
I’ll get there in the end – with both things!
Have a great week.