Driving Hungry, and 5 Hints from a Struggling Writer
This blog is not dead. It’s on book leave.
After five years, three hemispheres, and a lot of cab rides, I finally get to tell the story behind the story of Taxi Gourmet.
Driving Hungry, the book based on this blog, is coming out in 2014 – and it’s the reason I’ve become a lapsed blogger.
It didn’t take long for the euphoria of finding a publisher to wear off. Now, in between moments of wondering why I ever wanted to write a book, I’ve become very good at working myself into a frenzy over how impossible it seems.
But I’m not here to whine.
I’m here because I’d like to tell you some things I’m learning in the strange, painful, occasionally joyful process of writing this thing.
If you came here to read about a taxi adventure, I owe you a story. (You’ve probably clicked somewhere else by now anyway.)
But if you’re still reading, and if you’re thinking about writing a book, or if you’re struggling with one, here are five hints you might consider. Please take what you need and throw the rest away. And if you’ve heard some of this stuff before, that’s because it’s true.
1. Read great writers who are writing about the places and events and people and food you want to write about. Try to be inspired and not intimidated. Right now I’m re-reading Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi – a mostly masterful travelogue about Miller’s dreamy journey around Greece – and “The South” by Jorge Luis Borges – my favorite short story set in Argentina.
(You can also read terrible books that have been published in your genre and spend some time trying to pinpoint why their stuff isn’t working, so you can learn from their mistakes. Is the writer too self-aware? Not self-aware enough? No sense of humor?)
2. Gather quotes (from some of the great writers you’re reading?) that move you and/or relate to your story, and save them in one place. When you’re preparing to start a new chapter, sift through these quotes and figure out which one best communicates the message you want to communicate. Depending on what you’re writing, you can even put your chosen quote at the beginning of your chapter. You can erase it later if you want. The point is to use someone else’s beautifully expressed idea as a springboard to express your own. For example:
“I had many strange experiences in cabs myself. In New York mostly, and in other places. So what I really liked was the idea that in a taxi you are in a space with someone alone and you have nothing invested in your relationship. You can say whatever you want. You can be completely honest or dishonest.” — Jim Jarmusch, in an interview about Night on Earth (maybe the greatest taxi film ever made)
3. Find a writing partner. For you introverted types who think you can skip this step, I’m telling you you can’t. Well, you can, but if you do, it will just make your writing life more difficult. A writing partner will give you two things you desperately need if you’re writing something big: a deadline and constructive feedback.
Your writing partner should be, most importantly, someone who will be honest with you about your work. Someone whose work you respect. Someone who can tell you what’s working and what’s not working in your story.
Every week, or every other week, my writing partner and I meet. We commit to sending each other a piece of work a day or two beforehand. I read her stuff and comment and suggest. She reads my stuff and comments and suggests. You can’t do this over the internet. Well, you can, but it’s not as good, and you can’t share rhubarb soda.
4. Kill your television. Or give it away. Or throw it out the window, as I’ve seen people in Berlin do. If you can’t kill your television, find a place where you can go and write, without internet access. I had a friend in Buenos Aires who told me he was finally able to finish his script – after years of trying – because he couldn’t get internet in his apartment. The idea is to be honest with yourself about what distracts you, and to figure out the best way to contend with it. (Damn you, instant email alerts.)
5. Find a writing support to turn to when you’re stuck. This can be a book on writing (Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a classic for a reason). It can be a Writer’s Digest webinar. It can be a movie about a writer you admire or loathe, or about the writing process itself (Adaptation is a good one). Have you ever listened to Selected Shorts? If you can’t find a way to move forward with your story, at least you can nourish your writing self in the meantime, and feed the feeling that you’re growing as a writer.
PS – If you’ve already written a book or two, and if you’re so inspired, please feel free to chime in with your insights. We who are about to write salute you.
PPS – I haven’t forgotten I owe anyone who’s still reading this blog a story about a taxi adventure. Please stay tuned for a delicious one from Rome.