On Writing a Novel

I recently started reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott…again. She calls it “Some Instructions on Writing and Life.”

I’m going to quote a paragraph from her book not just because I think it’s truthful, but because it’s different than how I’ve been going about the novel writing process.

E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.

I agree with this advice, yet I do have to contrast it to my current writing process. I’m outlining my novel in great detail. That alone goes against what Doctorow and Lamott are saying. I’m coming up with a solid roadmap, but at the same time I’ll still be discovering things along the way. Hence, the quote makes a lot of sense.

Lamott also talks about how it’s good to think of writing as “short assignments.” Don’t get overwhelmed and take things one step at a time. I believe this is why she quoted Doctorow when she did.