When I first started college, I didn’t have a car. I bummed rides from friends and roommates. Even if I didn’t have any pressing items on my “to buy” list, I went with those people to the store. Who knew when they would be going again?
The result of being a passenger however many times led to an in-depth knowledge of the city. By the time I had my own car, I could find my way around town without any problems. My knowledge often surprised any passengers who accompanied me; I suppose they thought I had drifted into a daydream all those times I was the passenger.
I’m sure I sometimes daydreamed, but I’m equally sure I paid attention to my surroundings most of the time. Being a passenger in the car allows for active observation. One can watch for road signs and notice other things: interesting stores, a road that could lead to an adventure, buildings begging to have their photographs taken, et cetera. If one is very active with those observations, he or she might even begin to make connections between those roads and start to think of different routes.
Writers, too, must be active observers. They can’t daydream their way through the writing life. They have to pay attention. They have to learn the main thoroughfares. They have to notice the offshoots from them. They must begin to make connections. They have to develop their own ideas. They have to create their own routes. Some of those routes will lead to dead-ends. Some of them will end only to begin again at a later date. Still others will keep a writer in good stead for many, many miles. Eventually, though, the writer has to choose a new route. He or she has to keep growing and to keep trying new things. It isn’t enough to stay on the same road. It becomes dull with wear. It might develop potholes or – horrors! – a sinkhole. The road is no longer available either because of staleness or calamity. The writer must leave that road. How? Through active observation. It’s through that sort of observation that the writer becomes aware of and has the opportunity to pursue new pathways.