Headlights and Strobe Lights

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

E. L. Doctorow

When I’m at the point I’m at now in a first draft, I cling to this quote from E. L. Doctorow as if it were Dumbo’s magic feather. I tell myself that I’m actually getting somewhere, even though I can only see a few feet in front of me.


But one thing Mr. Doctorow doesn’t mention is that, not only are we driving on a dark road lit only by headlights when we’re writing a first draft, but most of us have to turn the headlights off and on every day. Yes, one of the pesky facts of life is that you can’t always focus completely on your book or other creative pursuit for hours at a time.


In my world, my headlights turn into strobe lights. I’m able to sink into my writing mind for a little while. That’s when the lights are brightly on. Then I have to think about something else, put the writing part of my brain to bed, and turn the headlights off. Later, I have another moment to write and the headlights come back on. And so forth. *blink…blink…blink*


If I’m driving by headlights, there’s a steady stream of light. I might only be able to see a few feet in front of me, but the lights are always on and there’s consistency. However, if I’m trying to drive by strobe lights, it’s much different. You know how things look when strobe lights are flashing? Everything appears disjointed and strange. And when the flashes of light in your creative life are coming sporadically, it’s very easy for your writing to feel aimless and confused.


So, what’s a girl to do? The only thing is to try to be as consistent as possible.


I am finding that writing every day – every single day – is essential. Maybe it wouldn’t be quite so important if I didn’t do my writing in found moments. But because my writing time tends to be measured in minutes, not hours, it’s essential to stay on task by working every day. Otherwise it’s far too easy for me to lose my way in the flash of the strobes.


Don’t get me wrong. I still get lost. I still open my document and say “how did I get here?” But at least I usually know that I’ve been driving.




  1. good one

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