Thinking and driving

One of the fabulous perks of my new job: meeting contemporary writers on a regular basis as we host them for readings or lectures at the Literary House. A couple weeks ago, I had the honor of meeting Dylan Landis, author of the novel-in-stories Normal People Don't Live Like This. As tends to happen when a successful writer comes to visit an undergrad Creative Writing program, during the Q&A following the reading, a student asked the dreaded what-advice-would-you-give-to-aspiring-writers question.  

Is it mean that I always cringe a little on the inside when this question is asked? I mean how many different ways can a writer be expected to iterate the same basic principles? Write early and often. But Dylan offered up something refreshing on that same theme. Her advice was very specific and addressed that most nagging problem: time management. 

1. Set your alarm an hour earlier in the morning, and use that hour to write before the obligations of the day ahead begin. 

As sound as that advice is, I have a hard enough time as it is dragging myself out of bed an hour after my alarm goes off. Which is why I already set my alarm an hour before I need to get out of bed in order to get to work on time. I don't think this piece of advice will survive my body's natural inclination to early morning lethargy. But I certainly recommend that other, stronger-willed persons give that a try.

Dylan Landis did not advocate writing while driving. That's dangerous.
2. Turn off the radio in the car, and use that driving time to think about whatever draft you are currently working on. Sort out the things that have you stuck.

Eureka! Here is time I am already wasting. It's already built into my daily routine, so why not utilize it? While driving 45 minutes to my eye exam one morning, I propped my little notebook up in the dashboard (I drive an automatic, do I really need to stay on top of RPM?--utilizing waste of dash space!), and had that open as a reminder of the poem fragment I had been trying to complete. With the radio off, I had enough quiet to think and work through the possibilities. And because I'm also concentrating on driving, I don't suffer from that blank-page-fright--the same way taking a break and working on chores may help you reach that eureka moment.

3. Turn off the television in the evenings, and WRITE!

To be honest, I came to that conclusion on my own a few years ago. When the national switch to digital was mandated in 2009 by the FCC, I made the conscious decision not to upgrade my hand-me-down analog set or even grab a discounted conversion box. I decided this was a great time to cut that time-suck out my life. Because the thing is, even if there is nothing on, if I was bored, I would still channel surf and settle on something just to pass the time. If I don't have that option, it follows that I would be more likely to do something more productive with my time: read a book, WRITE, or move forward on some other creative project. How liberating! I must confess, I still spend a bit of time catching up on certain shows on Hulu, but it is taking up far less of my time. It was a lifestyle change that has been nothing but positive.


  1. Oh, I like the "writing during drive time" hint. Inspiration often strikes when only half a brain is being used for something else. Most people seem to drive with half their brain anyway. Ha ha!
    Is 'writing text while driving' the same as 'texting while driving'? I guess not, as long as there is no pencil in hand...

  2. Hahaha! Thanks for writing, Jane. I just invested in a little voice recorder for this purpose! Just push the record button, set it in the cup holder, and "write" away! Sounds less dangerous, right? It should also come in handy for bedtime "writing" as well--you know when you just can't make yourself get up, turn on a light, and write down whatever you've thought up? I'll just reach blindly over to the nightstand, hit the record button and mumble into the recorder.


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