The writers' backseat driver

  • December 23, 2009
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Writing requires thousands of decisions — everything from whether to use a comma or a dash to what’s in the next chapter. Voices in my head chatter incessantly and sometimes scream out:

“Do this. Don’t do that.”

“Speed it up”

“Turn right here.”

“I mean, left.”

“Here!”

Screeeeeeeeeeech.

E. L Doctorow has said, “Writing a novel is like driving across country at night. You can only see as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

If so, the voices are my backseat driver.

Other writers seem to travel with the same companion. One novelist told me that if it weren’t for writing, she’d be certifiably crazy. Where else can you hear voices and be called “creative”? For me, writing is metabolic — interrupting my sleep, inserting itself into my daily drives and showers, invading my most intimate conversations.

But I don’t always have paper and pen handy. Then, when the voices clamor loudly, I find a quiet corner, dial my home phone on my cell phone, and leave myself a voicemail to record the lines swimming in my head. I just hope no one picks up the messages before I get to them.

Not a good profession for the inhibited, the indecisive, or those who don’t like backseat drivers.

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