Writing While Driving

driving while writing.jpg

Years ago, while working on my fourth book, Keeper of the Light, I hired writing consultant Peter Porosky to help me brainstorm the plot and structure. I lived in Virginia at the time, and Peter lived nearly an hour’s drive away from me in Maryland. He’d read my initial outline and we got right down to work, talking about characters and storyline. I already loved the story I had in mind, but talking about it with another writer was thrilling. Peter would never tell me what I should do, but he talked about what worked and what didn’t and prompted me to come up with my own solutions. (An ironic aside: one of the many twists in Keeper of the Light came to me during this conversation when Peter accidentally referred to one character by the name of another, which started a whole series of “what ifs?” in my mind and ultimately changed the entire story!) When I left Peter’s house, I got in my car and started the drive home, stuffed full of ideas, my mind a thousand miles away from the road. It’s hard to describe the excitement I felt. If you’re a creative person, perhaps you know what I mean. You hit on an idea, and it begins to take off, spinning out in a dozen different directions. It’s not only your mind that’s reacting to the thrill of discovery. Your entire body feels engaged and your fingers itch to get going on the project. It’s a creative person’s Nirvana.

Anyway, I was driving home and I finally noticed a sign along the highway for the Baltimore-Washington Airport. Huh? I struggled to pull my mind back to the here-and-now and realized I’d gotten on the highway going north instead of south. Totally oblivious to my surroundings, I’d driven a full thirty miles in the wrong direction. I didn’t cuss or fret. I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I ended up at the North Pole. I was working on a story!

So yesterday, I was driving home from Starbucks. My car should know this route automatically by now, even if I’m not paying attention, but no. I ended up in Wake Forest, a town way north of where I live. I stopped at red lights, avoided pedestrians, and stuck to the speed limit, but my mind was clearly on a North Carolina beach with some new characters who have stolen my heart. These folks are not only affecting my driving, but the rest of my life as well. I can’t tune them out. They have so much to say to me and they’re full of surprises, forcing me to take notes when I should be sleeping and making me blurt out things like “Oh, wow!” in the checkout line of the grocery store and not even feel embarrassed about it.

People often ask me “What’s your favorite part of writing a book?” This is it. The Nirvana part. The writing while driving part. Even at $4.30 a gallon, it’s worth it.   



  1. Margo on August 5, 2008 at 3:39 pm

    Diane, it’s exciting for me just to hear YOU get excited about your new characters, plots etc…I know exactly what you mean because I also feel like I’m not among the living at times because an idea hits me for a new painting or work of art and my inner soul is glued to the idea and forming pics in my head and I totally lose reality! It’s not surprising to me that KEEPER OF THE LIGHT was created this way because your soul truly took over as you formed haunting charcters and story filled with symbolic light. I can tell that ALL your novels unfold in this magical way and that’s what makes you & and your books so incredibly unique and special. I agree, it’s even worth $4.30 a gallon…just don’t forget your way home. (-:

  2. brenda on August 5, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Diane, I have a voice activated tiny recorder…I used it in grad school and for my columns…you talk…you then hook it to your computer and type as you hear…it is great…That’s what I used this summer in ENGLAND to do the journal we had to keep…instead of writing as we went as the others were doing…(Hard with arthritis…) Glad to hear you are excited ALREADY…North Carolina beach…okay

  3. Ann on August 5, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    There is no place better than a North Carolina beach for your next story. There are so many from which to choose. They are like your books – you can’t pick a bad one.
    I enjoyed the chat room last night. It was going so fast it was hard for me to keep up but you did a great job of answering all the questions. Thanks for taking the time.

  4. brenda on August 5, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    Ann, Wasn’t it fun discussing the writing? I think NC beach is a great choice too. Some of my favorite books take place in the south…

  5. Ann on August 5, 2008 at 11:50 pm

    Yes, Brenda it was so much fun. It was nice to know that you were there. I feel like I know so many of Diane’s bloggers [is that what we are called?] even though I have never met you or the others.
    Diane, you now have 2 of us happy about the N.C. beach location for a book.

  6. Margo on August 6, 2008 at 7:59 am

    Count me in Ann and Brenda! I LOVE N.C. BEACH LOCATIONS! I have loved the sea since I was a little girl and once it’s in your blood, there’s no going back. My fav Diane books are the ones that are beach locations. CYPRESS POINT was such an incredible story with BIG SUR the locale…that book inspired me to create a weaving of the lone cypress tree with the finished piece woven and hanging from driftwood!…Diane, talk about discovering a new idea…that’s what happened while I read your book!
    Plain and simple, you are pure magic Diane.

  7. Diane Chamberlain on August 6, 2008 at 9:38 am

    You all are so sweet. πŸ™‚
    I’m having a hard time deciding what NC beach, though. I admit I’m having trouble tearing myself away from Topsail Beach as a setting because the people there have been so wonderful to me, but I do think I should consider other locales. I’ll be going with John to the Outer Banks photography workshop he’s teaching in October, so I could always move my setting back there. I also love Holden Beach because it’s so quiet and it has a terrific long pier and my story requires a loooong pier. Ann, being a NC beach person, do you have other thoughts?

  8. brenda on August 6, 2008 at 10:15 am

    My favorite-sorry-but I love the crowds-we started going in the early 70’s–Myrtle Beach…(S.C.), and I lived near there for 5 years…now, it is Miami Beach because my son is there-not crowded where he lives. BUT: DIane-what about Emerald Isle-that seems to be a place folks really like…If not, consider S.C.–Edisto is a terrific place (outside of Charleston)–my daughter and her hubby honeymooned there…also Kiawah is outside of Charleston…and let’s not forget TIPPEE outside of Savannah. (I realize you want to do N.C., but those in S.C. are quite close actually…)

  9. brenda on August 6, 2008 at 10:17 am

    P.S. Holden Beach too or Wilmington (where my friend’s daughter worked in the movies)…I still think Emerald Isle has the name for a book…
    Ann-I agree-we have become cohorts in reading… πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚
    Gina-every time I try to go to your site to read the posts, I am taken to the chat room…I will work on that…let me know if there is another chat.

  10. Rob Lopresti`` on August 6, 2008 at 10:23 am

    Great piece, Diane. I hear so many writers talk about feeling “in the zone” when they are writing and everything is flowing perfectly, but I almost never feel that when writing. It is in the moments youu describe, when the story is coming together in my head, that I feel that way. Then there is the moment of let down when realize that the story is as good now as it will ever be – that the moment I put a word on paper it will be less perfect than it is in my head! (Hitchcock said the movie was always better before he started filming it.)
    And I think I may get a short story out of your blog, so thanks for that!

  11. Diane Chamberlain on August 6, 2008 at 10:38 am

    YES, Rob, you’re absolutely right, and that’s why I didn’t get a single word on paper yesterday. The idea was so alive in my head and I must have subconsciously been afraid of ruining it by trying to write it. But I’m off to the Opium Den in a few minutes to start typing. Welcome home from your archaelogical dig, by the way!
    Brenda, I want to stick to the NC beaches because I think Mary Alice (Monroe) should have the SC beaches to write about. Emerald Isle is a distinct possibility…

  12. Glen on August 6, 2008 at 11:11 am

    Diane, we would hate to lose you at Topsail but… I know the feeling to explore other places.
    I have a heartfelt spot for SouthPort or Bald Head Island. Both very unique and SouthPort has an elegant old southern charm along the water front. Another place with history and charm is Beaufort, NC just east of Morehead City.
    Good Luck!

  13. Margo on August 6, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Diane, any beach is fine with me! I have to admit I loved the locale for KEEPER OF THE LIGHT. Rob’s archeological dig?…I’d love to know what that is about and where?

  14. Ann on August 6, 2008 at 1:31 pm

    Diane, there are SO many good NC Beaches!! Of course, I am partial to the Outer Banks and Topsail Island because of my many vacations there and all the memories. My sister lives at Emerald Isle and it is certainly another favorite. It is a beautiful beach. I think if you have time you should visit a few of them. I know you will get a “feel” for the right one. Again I don’t think you could pick a Bad one.

  15. Diane Chamberlain on August 6, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    Glen, thanks for those suggestions!
    Margo, one of my brother Rob’s, many passions is biblical archaeology. He just came back from two very hot and fascinating weeks at this dig near Jerusalem. http://tinyurl.com/6gp7mq

  16. Margo on August 6, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Diane, I’m going to tell my sister about Rob’s dig…she is fascinated with the same subject and took several trips to Israel in the past 10 years where she also participated in a few digs. I just finished reading this site on the dig your brother visited and admire anyone who takes the opportunity to visit mysteries of the past. What an incredible experience it must be to participate in a dig such as this! This is something I would love to do sometime.

  17. Julie on August 7, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Then there are the times you are in the zone and things are flying at you and they seem perfect, and you aren’t afraid to put them on paper, but when you do, they JUST DON’T WORK. Grr.
    (Can you tell I’m having a bad writing day? Can you tell that scenario happened to me yesterday and today?) πŸ™‚
    I’m ready to hit any one of those beaches, I don’t really care which one at this point. LOL

  18. Diane Chamberlain on August 7, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Julie, I had to laugh as I read your comment. I think that’s why it’s hard to transfer the glimmering, golden idea to the page: you know it’s never going to be as good as the idea itself. It reminds me of when I used to play Pictionary, the game in which you draw the clue for your teammates to guess. I’d know EXACTLY what I wanted to draw, could see it perfectly in my mind’s eye, but I’d try to translate the idea to the paper and the pencil would just jump all over the place. Very frustrating!

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