Why I drive like Mr. Magoo, and how that might help me finish my book before I’m dead

**An apology to those of you who accidentally got this yesterday. I guess I blog a little like Mr. Magoo, too.

I was recently explaining to a friend why I have trouble getting much writing done.

I described the runway approach I use to build momentum: collecting my thoughts…exercising to clear my head…I need a full stomach, a glass of water, and my phone nearby, set to vibrate. I like my work area to be clean and organized. In fact, it’s best if the whole house is clean and organized, the bills paid, meal planning done, and groceries in the fridge, so there’s no lingering ‘to do’ list hanging over my head.

I wish I were exaggerating.

I need a writing soundtrack. Headphones are best, with familiar music rambling like an old friend inside my head. I like to drift in and out of a song without it snagging my attention.

Once I actually sit down and face the computer, I usually need to write a healthy chunk of crap before I can access the good stuff. Then, after the initial spew, I need about three or four solid hours of uninterrupted time to make any measurable progress.

As I was describing this process, it suddenly struck me how absurd it all was. Sure, who wouldn’t write best under those circumstances? The problem is that they occur simultaneously maybe once a year; the remainder of the time, I just wish I were seriously writing. I might squeeze out a blog post now and then, but when is The Book going to happen?

Here’s my revelation:  I simply can’t wait for the stars to align to produce the perfect writing conditions; if I do, I won’t finish my book until long after I’m dead.

I need to write now, regardless of the circumstances (or, for that matter, the litany of mental obstacles listed previously).

And I’ll bet it’s possible.

After all, I drive best when I’m well-rested, well-fed, and alone in the car, listening to my favorite music. But, I don’t wait to go places until I meet all of the aforementioned conditions. If I need to be somewhere, I go. If I need to get my loved ones around, I do. I take small people to school and to the doctor and the dentist. I fill up with gas and get a few things for dinner. Maybe I parked in the sun so I have to hold the steering wheel with some slightly used tissues I found under the seat. Maybe the playdate gets carsick and I can’t find a plastic bag. No matter. If I need to drive, I drive. Never mind that I have to crank Today’s Hits in order for my two lovely children to refrain from bickering or throwing something at the driver. Shoot, I even have to drive when there is bickering and throwing. I have to drive when people are crying or asking questions like ‘what is god?’ I have to drive when I’m in a bad mood, when I’m sick, and when I’ve been so busy that I’ve forgotten to eat a meal or two. When I need to be somewhere, I go–no matter what is happening in and around me. It might not be graceful. I might careen a bit like Mr. Magoo, but I can get there.

IT’S THE SAME WITH WRITING OR MAKING ART OR PARENTING OR HAVING IMPORTANT CONVERSATIONS OR ANYTHING AT ALL. If we wait for the perfect set of circumstances, we will miss our opportunity completely. End of story.

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Published by

Beret Olsen

Writer, photographer, teacher, and part-time insomniac.

15 thoughts on “Why I drive like Mr. Magoo, and how that might help me finish my book before I’m dead”

  1. I’m like that too. I want everything around me in perfect order, including myself, before I start to write. How often does that happen? Once a month, maybe twice?

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    1. Is that why we’re all writing blogs instead of the next great novel?? I did better in school because there were folks setting deadlines for me, and clear consequences for missing them. I wonder what is the secret of self-motivating…

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      1. I tend to work better under pressure too. I’ve also found that love found – or lost – is a pretty good motivator.

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  2. I am so with you on setting up the perfect circumstances before writing. But for me it’s also before exercising. Whenever I’m about to exercise, I decide that I need to clean my entire apartment, get everything in order, etc… Perhaps this is the grand incentive I need to actually get some cleaning done — just say that I’m going to exercise! Love this post, thank you!

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  3. I thought I was the only one who has a hard time writing if the house isn’t clean….it sure limits the brilliance a mom can spew out, doesn’t it? I have six kids, only two left in the house, and it it messier now than when they were all little. My new trick is going into my new You Moved Out So Your Bedroom Became My Office and shut. the. door.

    Remember how little kids think if they can’t see it, it isn’t there?

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    1. Haha! I guess it works for grown ups as well. I can’t hear OR see in order to pretend I’m alone. Nothing breaks the writing momentum like “mom. mom. mom. mom.” To have six kids AND write seems near impossible, so my hat is off to you.

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  4. Hahahaha. I had that exact conversation with myself a few weeks ago. There is no perfect set-up, no matter how hard I try to set one up. Just need to sit and go. Glad to see I’m not the only one who likes the headphones though.

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  5. Very true!! I finally cracked down and wrote my book while I was in graduate school where I was insanely busy studying an unrelated field. Looking back I have no idea how I did this. I had at least 10-12 hours of class or internship or practicum every day, hung out with friends all the time afterwards, and traveled a lot for my long distance relationship. But somehow, over two years, I pieced together enough scraps of free time to make it happen. Once you truly decide you want to do it, everything else will fall into place somehow.

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    1. That is so inspiring! Kudos to you! I was always very productive in school, but I have a difficult time making my own structure and deadlines. Maybe I’d be able to write more if I went to grad school;).

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  6. Ha ha ha. I just quit grad school. Only 6 weeks into it. I did write; a presentation, a paper proposal and a critique of an assigned reading. I thought that since my son was now 3 and dad was putting him to bed, I could go back to school. When my 18 year old was 2, I concluded that I could then leave my law clerk position and actually practice law because my son and 4 year old daughter were old enough to survive my 85+ hour a week “professional” job. I lasted 13 months too long in that role. So this time, when I realized that my 3 writing projects and each week’s 200 paged reading assignment were turning me into “that girl”–the one who used to push for “A’s” at all cost, even calling an ambulance for her mother when her mom came home early with heart attack-like symptoms–called an ambulance so she wouldn’t miss her German 404 final. Yep, that girl who didn’t care about anything but the final grade, I knew I had to quit. But here’s the deal. Somehow, I found time in those 6 weeks to write about 30 pages of material (for class) with footnotes, well-researched etc.; all in an area that was brand-new to me (art history–why did I pick art history? So I could run away from the real business of writing my creative non-fiction book, that’s why), and so now that I’ve become a grad school drop out, I sure do hope I can use my newly found time-finding skills on writing my own stuff rather than professor assigned matter. Deadlines really do help. I need to join a writer’s workshop of some sort. I am determined, this time.

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