I am not a patient person. In fact, if I had to name my biggest faults, impatience ranks exceptionally high. Although I’d like to be the Great Dane reclining gracefully on the sofa of life, in reality I’m the terrier in the corner, running in spastic circles with periodic breaks to gnaw the furniture.
Which makes me a great candidate to teach a teenager how to drive.
But when I recovered from the flu this weekend I decided to put a good face on it, screw my patience to the sticking point and teach Tesla to drive.
The driver training school’s website has all kinds of great information and instructions for parent-teachers. Helpful suggestions like, “Speak in a calm, composed voice,” and “Make constructive comments to help your teen driver become aware of road conditions.” Note: I couldn’t find the sections on “screaming like a banshee to facilitate quick reaction speed” or “stomping the imaginary brake-that-doesn’t-exist whenever your teen steps on the gas pedal.” (Must be an oversight on their part.)
After the fifth fifteen-minute session circling our neighborhood I came to a surprising realization. Teaching a teenager to drive isn’t much different from writing a novel. Perseverance, determination to succeed, efforts to remain calm under impossible circumstances and moments of sheer terror….yep, I’d seen this before.
I decided to write my first (adult) novel two years before I set fingers to keys. I thought about it all the time, and when I finally started writing I thought the words would come easily, just as Tesla’s dreams of driving made him believe driving would be a breeze.
We were both so wrong.
Tesla got behind the wheel, oriented himself to the vehicle’s (many) gauges, dials and knobs, took a deep breath and turned the keys. I sat at my computer, opened a document and typed “Chapter 1.”
And that’s about where the process went off the rails.
Tesla put his foot on the gas. The car lurched forward. In a panic, he hit the brakes. He looked at me with worry in his eyes.
“I don’t think I can do this.”
“Yes you can,” I told him. “I believe you can.”
Seven minutes and five miles an hour later, he had driven two blocks without incident. I managed not to scream (and my heart will be fine – eventually). We went for ice cream in celebration.
My first fiction manuscript had a similar launch. I wrote the first seven pages in three days and then put it aside for more than three years. I hadn’t given up. The story wouldn’t let me. The narrator’s voice refused to go silent in my head. That manuscript wouldn’t give up on me, despite my lack of experience and skill. And since I couldn’t get the story out of my head, I didn’t give up on myself either. The story somehow believed in me. I could not let it down.
It’s easy for a new driver to give up. The car seems unwieldy and far too fast. Hazards abound, and learning to watch for all of them takes more eyes and ears than one person could possibly have. More experienced drivers have no patience and no willingness to slow their pace or lend a helping hand.
Sound familiar to anyone else?
It’s easy for a writer to derail before the process even starts. Writing a novel is overwhelming, and nobody has the skills to do it perfectly at the start. But like driving, much of writing can be learned through practice, perseverance and the willingness to suppress an overwhelming desire to fling oneself from the vehicle, screaming in terror. (OK, maybe that last one’s just me.)
So if there’s a story burning in you this morning, hang in there. Don’t give up. It won’t be beautiful at the start, but that’s not the bit that matters. You can fix it later, when you’ve got the skill. Put your fingers back on the keys and hang in there.
I believe in you, too.