Headlight writing

Whew, life and work have been packed these last couple of weeks so I haven’t posted like I’d hoped. Here’s a writing quote to start the week, though:

“It’s like driving a car. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” — E.L. Doctorow

night-driving1

One of the things that intimidates me most about writing a novel is the sheer size of it — 100,000 words is nothing to sneeze at! I’ve been thinking of it in terms of the proverbial “eating an elephant one bite at  time,” but like the headlight analogy better.

When your headlights are the only thing showing your way, you see really well right in front of you, then see fairly well, then the light fades into darkness. You might know where you’ll end up eventually, but can’t see what lies beyond that immediate pool of light. I’m learning that it’s often the same way with my writing.

I’m what I consider a semi-plotter — I map out the general story and have an idea of how I want things to come together, but don’t go through the steps of chapter summaries or scene one-liners.  I see where I am, which is the brightest pool in my headlights. I have a good idea of how I want my current scene to fit with the next, which is that area that’s still lit but not quite as bright. I know how I want it to all end, which is the final destination. But all sorts of unexpected things pop up along the way that I didn’t anticipate — that’s what lies in the darkness just past the headlights. 

As long as I focus on the immediate pool of light — my current scene or chapter — but keep the final destination in mind, I can keep plowing through the story without getting too far off track (or at least  hope so!). Then when I look back I’ll see all the distance I traveled and realize that it wasn’t so daunting after all. I just need to take it one mile marker (or chapter) at a time.

Categories: Writing life, Writing quotes | Tags: , | 5 Comments

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5 thoughts on “Headlight writing

  1. Cynthia

    Leigh,
    I like that quote, it’s a good way to look at your writing. I never wanted to write a book or thought I could but after last years conference I had this really neat idea…many words later I find myself almost at the end of the novel. Of course, it is very rough and needs much revision and study and more revision. But just getting a story down is an amazing feat, even if it never goes anywhere. I want to encourage you in your efforts. I too, was overwhelmed with the word count. Leigh, I’m over 80,000 words at this point! I’ve found that working at it consistently each week has made the difference. I set aside usually one day a week and force myself to concentrate on it. I do hope this helps you and inspires you to keep at it. I also found that I had to just write, not worry about all the things I didn’t know or understand about fiction.
    It can be so overwhelming. But if you can just get the story, however rough, down on paper you can work at all the other stuff later!
    Long message, sorry. Hope I do get to meet you at Blue Ridge. Great staff this year.
    -Cynthia

  2. That’s a wonderful analogy (and not as nauseating as the thought of eating an elephant!).

    Keep at it! I look forward to reading about your journey.

    • Thanks, Karin! And I totally agree on the nauseating aspect of eating an elephant. Makes you wonder who came up with that analogy in the first place …
      Have a blessed day!

  3. Great analogy! Encouraging, too.

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