Writing is Like Driving a Standard

When the words come easily, it's like driving on an open highway.To drive a standard is to be in tune with one’s automobile. It’s to recognize when it’s time to shift, up or down. It’s to know when to put the vehicle in neutral or when to stay in motion, fluctuating between the brake and gas pedals.

The writing life is similar. It is not an automatic or an automated thing. It has its rhythms, which become familiar to the writer. The writer tunes into those rhythms. She follows their ebb and flow. She learns their give and take. She learns, as it were, to shift gears.

It isn’t easy; the gears sometimes stick. Sometimes, the writer approaches a hill and finds herself rolling backward or losing power. Emergency brake. Sometimes, that rolling backward inflicts damage on the vehicles surrounding her. Sometimes, all she can do is yell “Writer at work!” and hope that people will scramble out of harm’s way.

Other days, she forgets to shift down from a higher gear before moving again. She may get her vehicle to move but, oh, how it complains. She feels a sense of satisfaction in being able to move, even if in the wrong gear. She then apologizes to her automobile and promises to do better in the future. She knows the lurching and sputtering to life isn’t healthy for her vehicle or her. She isn’t alone on this road. A slight delay could result in a ten-car pile-up. She has a responsibility to care for her vehicle as best she can.

Some days, though? Some days are special. She finds herself on an interstate with little traffic. She puts her vehicle in its highest gear, and it hums. She can see for miles on this road. She gives her automobile a loving pat, then begins to take notice of the things she couldn’t when she was fighting to get into gear: the sun piercing the clouds; the bull chewing on some hay; the trees crowding close together. She smiles and keeps on driving, her hand resting on the gearshift.

Photo: ND Strupler (CC BY 2.0)


  1. I bought a VW Passat w/ a stick shift, it was so fun to drive…my wife hated it because she thought I was jerking her around in the car when I shifted. My next car was sans standard transmission…:(

    I think I write like I shifted; herky jerky at times…:).

    • bdorman264 Haha! Standards take practice and patience just like writing does. I’ve been driving a standard for eight years, and I still sometimes jerk the car into motion.

  2. I love it when I get in a zone and am firing on all cylinders. It is truly a joy.

    • ExtremelyAvg It is. I treasure those times. They are usually far and few between.

      • Erin F. ExtremelyAvg I had one of those nights on Wednesday. I was pleased (note, I edited out the “very”) with the rambling stream of consciousness that Arthur was going through. I don’t know if the readers liked it much, but I did. Sometimes, that is all that matters.

        • ExtremelyAvg The nice thing is that the joy you feel when you’re in one of those times usually transmits itself to your readers. 🙂

  3. rdopping says:

    Interesting analogies. What sense are you most aware of when driving a standard?

    • rdopping Either touch or sound. I can feel when I need to shift gears in my feet, but I can hear it, too – unless I have the radio or CD turned up too loud, of course. 😀

  4. Ah, but… what if you had one of those hybrids with the readout that shows you how well you’re maximizing your mileage? In that case, you’re getting help from the computer, but you still have manual control over how you drive. 
    I think there’s an analogy there about using the right tools that help you do your best. For me, it’s an old radio that picks up a classical music station. I can barely hear it, but it’s pleasant and drowns out distraction. 
    And having a dictionary/thesaurus in the OS doesn’t suck, either.

    • barrettrossie Do you know Richard Hugo’s Triggering Town? He talks about using the right tools in the book. He’s one writer to whom I return all the time.
      I don’t know about the hybrids. It might be good for driving, but I don’t know if I’d want to know if my writing was maximized. It might be too much pressure. 🙂 I do keep a dictionary, thesaurus, and grammar handbook handy, though.