Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Long Haul

Writing a lengthy fiction novel is very much like long-distance driving. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes planning.

It works best if one maps out their journey, choosing areas of rest and refueling a head of time, plotting their daily mileage goals, with the ultimate outcome to arrive safely at their final destination.

Recently I embarked on a driving journey that was unmistakable long, tiring, and challenging. The first hurdle to overcome was taking the trip alone. This encompasses a multitude of difficulties one doesn't usually encounter when traveling with a spouse, family, or friends.

**The first challenge is doing all the actual driving myself. There is no one else to take over when fatigue settles in, or a difficult stretch of road is approaching, or a congested city looms on the horizon. I was also pushing to make the trip as quickly as possible. (This, I have discovered, is not a safe, healthy option) But I did it. ;]

**The second is the quandary of navigating. I may know where I'm headed, my route, my exit number, etc. But with no one sitting in the passenger seat, helping to read the signs, follow the map, and yell out "It's time, turn here!" it can mean trouble.....Okay, one of those nifty modern inventions called a GPS would have been nice, not to mention cruise control, but alas, I had neither.

**The third is the loneliness factor. All alone out on the American highway can be daunting. Checking into motels alone is not a fan favorite, but can be done. Be aware of your surroundings and stay safe. On the other hand, I really enjoyed the alone-time, as well. I could listen to my style of music (loud or soft), I could stop when I wished -- or not. I could eat when I wanted, where I wanted, and what I wanted.
I also used the many hours to plot a couple of stories in my head while driving the long stretches of lonely road.

**The fourth is dealing with the mile by mile, endless hurdles -- traffic, weather, tolls, construction, accidents, crazy drivers, and lets not forget the kings of the American highway... the big rigs. The only way to handle these invariable barriers is with consistent, cautious driving.

One of the parallels between a long driving trip alone and writing an extensive novel is experience. I did not embark on this journey lightly. I have many years' driving experience. I have driven a multitude of vehicles all over the United States, Canada, and Europe. Learning the rules of the road and honing my skills to know what to do (hopefully) in any driving emergency.

While writing a novel, there are endless challenges, as well. We choose a genre, setting, characters, plot, conflict, style and pacing -- working hard day in and day out, mile after mile, to stay on the rocky path and reach our final destination -- to finish the book. There is the constant struggle and joy to learn the craft of writing, to understand the complexities of weaving together a gripping story, pushing forward to reach the point of writing the words -- The End. We have to continue to overcome the bumpy potholes in the road toward accomplishing our writing goals. :)

My driving expedition began in central Florida and ultimately ended in central Maine. Roughly 1700 miles one way. (Of course, I had to drive back to Florida, as well.)

My fuel efficient 2007 Toyota Yaris was a constant, reliable companion -- loaded with my luggage, books, CD's, camera, cell phone, snack food, travel mug, road atlas, and two coolers. I also had a notebook where I kept a journal of my travel experiences. There's a game I love to play as well whenever I drive -- writing down license plates from different states. Whoops, not so easy when all alone. However, I solved this dilemma by memorizing the plates as I spotted them and wrote them down whenever I stopped. (The final tally was 37 states and four provinces) I also kept track of names and places along the way to research for possible story ideas and settings. All fabulous ways to keep my mind alert and my body awake.

My reward for taking on this two week quest to New England and back again, was the pleasure of being with family and friends, and visiting some beautiful scenic areas.

Dresden, Maine

Moosehead Lake, Maine

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Lowell, Massachusetts

Somewhere in Georgia
(my last morning on the road)


Mom said...

Hi Cindy, How true! Taking a long, long car trip and writing a book are, indeed, very similar. One of the best parts of the long, quiet drive is having the time to work on the novel. You've really hit the nail on the head! Love your photographs. Where'd you get that cute little car with the rumble seat?

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Thanks for reading, Mom.
Yes, isn't that little car cute? A nice antique dealer friend loaned it to me. :)

Robin said...

Cindy -- I loved your description of driving solo on a long car trip and comparing it to starting (and hopefully, completing) a long writing project. Love the bit about memorizing all those license plates! Thanks for taking the time to write all these thoughts and memories down.

Dell Smith said...

Great post. Yes, a roadtrip is definitely research. You meet new people, see new towns and stretches of road, and have lots of time to think about plots, characters, etc.

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