Writing Is Like Driving at Night
Writer E. L. Doctorow said, about writing, “It’s like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights illuminate, but you can make the whole trip that way, you see.”
So true. Sometimes, when writing, we can start with the first word and see clearly, all the way to the end of a paper or letter or article—before having written any of it. For most of us, this doesn’t happen very often. Writing is hard in part because we have to work on it bit by bit, in layers (drafts). We can’t always tell, ahead of time, what the next bit will be like. It’s very common, even for accomplished writers, to feel lost or overwhelmed at some point in the writing process.
Let’s talk for a moment about what it means to be an “accomplished writer.” At the Writing and Communication Center (WCC), I meet many people who tell me, “I’m not a writer,” or “I’m no good at writing,” or “I’m a terrible speaker.” We’re often our own harshest critics. Let’s keep in mind that the act of working on our writing or speaking is, in and of itself, an accomplishment. Wherever we are, though, in working on writing or speaking, it can be easy to feel lost.
What I love about Doctorow’s driving-at-night statement is that he relates the at-times overwhelming, at-times mysterious, frustrating or frightening writing process—a process that makes us feel like “can’t”—to something we know, something we accept as “can.” This is analogy at its best.
The “Like It Or Not, Writing Is” blog uses analogies to help you hone your writing and speaking skills. In each post, we’ll examine how writing and speaking are like, or not like, something else. Not every analogy here has to work for you. You can “try on” the ideas in each post like you might try on shoes before buying them (to use another analogy). Some might be surprisingly comfortable. Some might help you go places. Some might not be a good fit. That’s okay. You can try others and see if they work better for you.
I’ll give you some practical tips, in the posts, and some exercises, which you can work through on your own or with people around you, offline. If you need additional help, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or, if you’re affiliated with MIT, you can make an appointment at the WCC to learn more about anything you read here.
See you soon with more analogies!