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.