Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.
- Jack Keruoac, On the Road
Here are some ways I use drive time to hopefully become a better writer, mile by mile:
MUSE RIDING SHOTGUN
For some reason, I get lots of creative “stuff” when I’m driving. Dialogue, essay angles, setting nuance (what color is that stretch of grass, really?), and plot tangles. I know I should get a tape recorder, but I’m pretty adept at scratching a few key words on a notepad that sits on the passenger seat, while I look straight ahead. You scoff— but it’s my story and I’m sticking to it. For this kind of drive time, I keep the radio off and my ear tuned to anything the muse has to say.
Sometimes I crank the tunes and let the music take me where it will. Lyrics enter my brain better in the car than anywhere else. Sometimes poems come out of this listening, but most of all I get character insights. I was listening to Tim Grimm’s song “Holding Up the World” one day and it occurred to me that it “belonged” to Keenan, one of my fictional characters. It sent me off on a whole new tone with him, followed by corresponding plot elements.
I have gotten some high-caliber education during long drives by downloading podcasts to my little iPod and playing them in the car. High tech? Not really. If I can do it (with a little help from my husband when I have questions) I bet you can too.
Just a few of my favorite writing-related podcasts are:
Writers On Writing: a weekly radio program on the art and business of writing, where an impressive cast of writers, poets and literary are interviewed.
Authors On Tour: Live! I don’t know about you, but I’d attend all of the writer events held at Denver’s Tattered Cover Bookstore if I could. With this podcast, I can be there for a lot of them.
KQED FM – The Writer’s Block: A weekly reading series featuring stories, essays and poetry by writers from all genres–includes accomplished beginners and established authors.
Grammar Girl Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing: When my attention span is short or I’m just running a few errands, I use the time to brush up on little details--the kind that editors will nail you on. This podcast is billed as a “friendly guide to the world of grammar, punctuation, usage, and fun developments in the English language” and it delivers.
New Yorker: Fiction: It’s hard for me to find time to read short stories. The cool thing with this podcast is that well-known authors read works of fiction by their favorite authors, and talk about the story. Examples: Rick Bass reads Thomas McGuane’s “All the Land to Hold Us”; Margaret Atwood reads Mavis Gallant’s “Voices Lost in Snow” -- They've got a poetry podcast too!
And you? How do you make those miles count? Share if you’re so inclined. I’ve got a long drive to Sheridan coming up in June…