Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
— E.L. Doctorow
It was the fall of my freshman year of high school that I fell in love with E.L. Doctorow. I was fourteen, and that was…too many years ago now to admit to. My English teacher had a few shelves of books she considered ‘should reads’ and loaned them out. As it happens, I”d read most of them already, but then I discovered Ragtime sitting there. The cover back then was a plain, solid color – rust as I recall – with the title in retro script across the top. I took it home. I was still reading in the wee hours that night. Lunch was forgotten the next day, and by the time 6th period rolled around I was, reluctantly, returning it to the shelf. Even now, all these years later, I still feel nostalgic when I think of it.
All that (ancient) history I present simply to explain why I picked the above quote. It’s a bit of synchronicity at play. I am now reading Bird By Bird, by Anne Lamott. I am only a few chapters in, but loving it so far. She mentioned this quote and it really hit home with me.
So often, when the urge to write a book hits us, we face an initial panic at the idea of writing something ‘that long’. How will we ever think of enough to fill two or three hundred pages? How will we ever figure out a whole storyline? The first blank page then looms huge, becoming overwhelming while we try to see all the way to the end, even as we are typing Chapter 1 – the heading, not the actual text.
That’s when these wise words can make all the difference. We need to focus on what we can see, what we are writing right now. What happens in this scene? What makes it important? How will it advance the characters? Is it believable and will it pull the reader in, make them feel as if they are really there? Focusing on what’s in the headlights, the scene before you, will make it happen. And that scene will lead to the next, and the next….and before you know it, you’ve made the whole trip. Enjoy the ride.