Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Learning to Drive By Marie Wells Coutu

Every city seems to have its own driving personality.

We’ve been in Houston for a few months now, and if you can learn to drive in Houston, you can drive anywhere. We have a joke between us that laws about signaling, stopping for red lights, and changing lanes safely—one lane at a time—are simply suggestions, according to the way many Houstonians drive.

It’s so different from the small, rural Iowa town where we’ve lived the last six years. There are fewer vehicles in the whole town than pass through a single light cycle at a busy intersection here. And you’d best be patient as you follow a large John Deere tractor all the way through town.

We also lived in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area for a decade. Home to a NASCAR speedway, drivers there think they’re on the speedway and will pass you if you’re only going the speed limit.

What does all this have to do with writing, you say? I think writing is much like driving in several ways:

Learning to Write

When you first learn to drive, you’re excited to be behind the wheel. You memorize all the rules, but you need a patient instructor to help you learn how to apply them. Then comes the day when you get to strike out on your own, but you’re always mindful of all the other people on the road with you.

As a writer, you start out excited. You study the craft, learn the “rules,” and seek out mentors to answer your questions and give you guidance as you navigate the world of publishing. And the best writers remain aware of other writers—keeping up with trends, supporting published authors, and encouraging and mentoring beginners. We become contributing members of our community.

Writing a Novel

When you drive a car, you must think about many details—applying the right amount of pressure to the gas pedal and brake, shifting gears (if the car isn’t automatic), checking the mirrors, adjusting the temperature, allowing enough braking distance, paying attention to the gauges, being aware of other vehicles and anticipating what they might do, all while (possibly) talking or listening to passengers and/or following the GPS to an unfamiliar location. The sheer number of details seems overwhelming but with practice, you get used to it and most of these actions happen unconsciously. When you drive in a new city, you may find yourself unaccustomed to the local driving culture, but you adjust quickly.

Writing a novel seems much the same. It requires creating characters who act consistently throughout the story until they are motivated to change, showing the impetus to change, describing settings or clothing or people without losing momentum, developing plot disappointments and disasters at the appropriate stage, incorporating all five senses, writing realistic dialogue, layering in symbolism, and providing a satisfying ending. And so much more.

Details and threads must be woven together into a logical, engaging story.

When you first learn to write, the number of details to worry about seems overwhelming. But with time and practice, one by one, various elements become second-nature. You begin to do them without consciously thinking about each one. Sure, if you change genres or get a new publisher, you may need to make adjustments, but now you’re experienced, so the transition happens quickly.

If you’re feeling discouraged because there’s so much to learn, don’t give up. Just remember how you learned to drive—with hours behind the wheel. Keep putting in the hours at the keyboard, and one day you will produce a worthy story. Then, before you know it, you’ll be an “old pro” and be giving instruction to newer, aspiring authors.

When you first learn to write, the number of details to worry about seems overwhelming. But with time and practice, one by one, various elements become second-nature. #writingtips #amwriting @mwcoutu @MaryAFelkins

Every city has its own driving personality. And writing is much like driving, with many details to learn, requiring practice and patience. #amwriting #SeriouslyWrite @mwcoutu @MaryAFelkins

Marie Wells Coutu finds beauty in surprising places, like old houses, gnarly trees, and forgotten treasures. When she’s not writing about finding restoration and healing through God-designed journeys, she enjoys taking broken things and making them useful.
She is currently working on historical romance novels set in the 1930s. One manuscript won the 2019 Touched by Love Contest and the 2019 Sheila Contest, and a second novel also won in the Sheila Contest.
Her published novels are women’s contemporary fiction. Her debut novel, For Such a Moment, won the Books of Hope Contest. The Secret Heart, her newest release, and Thirsting for More, the second book in the series, were finalists in several contests.

You can find more about Marie and her novels on her Facebook author page and her website, MarieWellsCoutu.com,
Follow her on Twitter @mwcoutu or on Amazon.


  1. I loved this analogy! So true!

  2. Welcome to Houston, Marie. I avoid driving into the city as much as possible. :) Loved your analogy.

  3. Driving in Seattle is CRAZY too, Marie! LOL!

    Thanks for sharing your wisdom on writing.

  4. This is a great message for new writers and not so new writers. :-)

  5. It's amazing how close the connection between writing and learning to drive. There's also the hazard for SOME of us who are prone to daydream while driving, listening to the chatter of our characters. Great post, Marie!


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