I was reminded of this question when I viewed this troubling video from John Klobucher, who has started an interesting writing project at his very fine blog Lore of the Underlings:
If I correctly understand this video, he writes his novel while he’s driving his car. How does he pull that off? Does he encounter a lot of red lights? Or empty stretches of highway? Should we find out what his route is so we can avoid it?
So that’s deeply concerning from the perspective of automotive safety. But on the other hand, good for him! This is one man’s approach to following Rule 0. If the only time you have to write is while you’re driving, just make it work. I wrote a good chunk of Senator while commuting on a subway train. If I couldn’t find a seat, I would stand at the end of the car so that I could lean against the emergency door and have both hands free to hold my notebook and scribble. I remember reading about Joseph Conrad finishing Lord Jim or some other novel while watching over his daughter as she recovered from a disease. I’ve heard of people writing while waiting for their kids to finish soccer practice. You do what you have to do.
So now on to Aristotle. (I don’t know where he wrote, but he sure managed to write a lot.)
Readers of this dispiriting blog may recall that while I drive I listen to online courses downloaded from iTunes University. Lately I’ve been listening to an Open Yale course called The Philosophy and Science of Human Nature. I recommend it! The professor is currently doing a deep dive into Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics. (I don’t know much about the Nichomachean Ethics, but I love saying the words out loud.) Anyway, one of Aristotle’s points is that virtue is a matter of habit. If you want to be just, get in the habit of doing just things. If you want to be a harpist, practice playing the harp — over and over again. As Wikipedia puts it:
People become habituated well by first performing actions which are virtuous, possibly because of the guidance of teachers or experience, and in turn these habitual actions then become real virtue where we choose good actions deliberately.
Seems to me that this applies to writing, too. (Whether writing itself is virtuous is a whole nuther question.) You become a writer by writing; everything else (reading, research, note-taking, making up great stories in your head, talking to your friends about those great stories) is beside the point. In my long-running writing group, we once had a come-to-Jesus meeting to try to help the folks in the group who weren’t producing anything to get started. This had the predictable effect of making some people feel really bad about themselves. One of them said, “You know, my whole life I’ve thought of myself as a writer, but I’ve never really written anything.” This has always struck me as a desperately sad statement. What, after all, was stopping him? It wasn’t like he wanted to become an astronaut. All he had to do was pick up a pen and start writing. This wouldn’t have made him a published writer, but none of us have much control over that.
So don’t be like him. Be like John Klobucher instead. Get in your car and start writing!