I never had the need of learning to drive. Poznań, my hometown in Poland, has an excellent public transport network, and when I moved over to Ireland, I couldn’t afford a car. Also, with the narrow and always jammed streets of Dublin, it seemed better to just search for an apartment near my workplace and walk to work. But moving over to the USA and living at the very edge of the town meant I would finally have start driving.
After waiting for my residency to be sorted out, I got my driver’s permit, and started getting familiar with the “controls” of the new game called “driving,” but it wasn’t until later I found similarities between learning to drive and writing.
The first and the most important similarity is that those who already have the driving license think there’s nothing to learning. Often they don’t remember their own struggles or think little of them since they’ve overcame them long time ago. Just like the writers who have their books already published might not remember the initial worries and fear, or they remember but moved past them, the experienced drivers don’t necessarily relate to the learner’s experience. But at least as writers we can search for people who are at a similar “writing” stage as we are, and compare notes or support one another.
It’s also harder to learn to drive at 36 when I’m well aware that any single action I choose might cause an accident or worse. This obviously affects my confidence and makes me a more fearful driver, afraid of making a mistake. The same goes for writers who as they become more experienced (age is irrelevant in this case as we start writing at different stages of our lives), they also become more conscious about their own shortcomings, writerly inadequacies, and all the possible mistakes one could make while creating a story. As much as we learn to overcome such fears (just like learners overcome it when they’re practicing driving), these things can greatly affect the creative process.
To make things more complicated, I’m not only learning to operate a manual stick shift, but also do it in a truck: our Toyota Tacoma might not be the biggest vehicle out there, but is definitely bulkier than an average car. (I can tell you that parallel parking is much more of a pain when you have to squeeze something big into a space meant for smaller things.) This reminds me of the extra difficulty I gave myself when it comes to my writing: I chose to write in a second language, aiming for the market that is already full of people much better at writing than me.
But learning how to drive a truck with a stick shift also makes me think of how many things one has to remember about while driving. Things that come naturally to seasoned drivers like pushing the clutch in at the right moment, shifting gears, checking the rear view mirror… When you’re a confident driver, you don’t need to pay attention to all those things, and you don’t have to consciously think about them. As a learner you have to remember them all, just like a writer does sometimes: watch out for info-dumps, pay attention to plot details, don’t make your all characters nod or shrug or smile (or whatever your “crutch” action or emotion is)… so on and so forth.
It’s all about persistence, both in driving and in writing. My driving lessons don’t go too bad, but every now and then I get the mindset of “I’m never going to learn it,” just like I sometimes give in the thought of “I’m never going to be a published writer.” I think the trick isn’t to never have such thoughts, but to learn how to keep going anyway and ignore them when necessary.
Because of my circumstances, I also don’t get to practice my driving often often (on average, it’s less than once a week – closer to once two-three week) which makes the whole process longer, and even though I don’t need too much of “getting back into the zone” like in writing, the time my learning takes causes frustration. Just like writers busy with their lives, families, and day jobs might feel that their writing “isn’t getting anywhere”.
Writing is a learning process just like driving is. As time passes, we – writers overcome our fears, battle our frustration, and discover writing itself becomes easier and easier. We don’t have to think of all the rules anymore, and words flow more naturally and in a more beautiful way. And just as I believe that one day I’ll be jumping around holding my very own driver’s license (regardless of the voice in my head claiming it won’t happen any time soon), I want to be as confident that one day I’ll be jumping around holding my very own book. Because writing is much like learning to drive, right?
Joanna Maciejewska is a fantasy and science fiction author who enjoys all things SFF: books, movies, and video games.
Her short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies in Polish and in English.
Her epic fantasy adventure series, starting with By the Pact, is available in ebook and paperback at all major retailers.