I recently bought a new car and I was struck by how similar buying a new car is like starting to write a new story. Both are bittersweet experiences, leaving behind something you cared about and spent a great deal of time with for a new adventure. Here are 5 ways a new story is like a new car:
1. It’s Exciting.
Who doesn’t love the thrill of starting something new? That moment when the idea is bright and shiny, flawless and epic. Embarking on a new project opens new horizons and gives the enticing possibility of going anywhere imaginable. It epitomizes the start of a new journey, that moment where we as the heroes of our own story answer the call and begin the quest.
2. The New Gadgets Are Like New Characters and Settings.
It’s been 20 years since I bought a new car. My last one had a cassette player. This one has a CD player, but many manufactures are now forgoing the CD player for an USB connection to stream your own music. This car is full of new gadgets that I need to get used to, that I need to work with for a while to understand, and that may befuddle me for a while.
A new story brings new characters and settings. I need to get to know the new characters, work with them for a while to find their hidden depths, and both the characters and settings may puzzle me for a while. And like the leap from cassette tape to USB, the “state of the art” in my writing keeps evolving. I am a better craftsman in the new novel than in the last one, and bring new techniques and deeper understanding of craft to the project.
3. It’s a Bit Uncomfortable.
After driving the same car for 20 years, the new one has a certain level of discomfort. Part of it is because I don’t want to ding the new car, and part of it is because all the buttons, etc., are not exactly where I am used to them being. I need to adjust the seat and the mirrors, and will probably have to refine those adjustments over time.
Leaving a project I’ve worked on for so long can be jarring. Picking up a new one can be a little uncomfortable. The reality of getting the story from your head to the page invariably dings that perfect, shiny idea. None of the characters are old friends yet. The plot is sketchy, perilous. I can’t always see everything clearly, and may need to adjust my view from time to time. Only time will allow me to settle in and make the driver’s seat envelop me comfortably.
4. It Smells.
That new-car smell can be overwhelming. Even when it’s not gag-worthy, it is unmistakable. Unless you are incredibly blessed as a writer, parts of your new project will have that first-draft smell to them. Not necessarily an unpleasant smell, but distinct. It wafts up from places where I need to dig a little deeper and fix things (so many things…) It’s an indescribable odor—but I know it when I smell it.
5. It’s a Huge Investment.
It takes a long time to buy a new car. Researching the models and the stats, then searching for the best deals can take hours. One of the car dealers said people spend an average of 18 hours researching on their own before they come into the dealer. Then, of course, there is the large monetary investment in paying for the car.
A new novel is also a huge investment of time. There is always research involved in a book, although exactly how much depends on the topics covered, the time period, and your own personal expertise in any given area. The actual writing is time consuming. Anywhere from months to years can get sunk into a book. That’s a lot of time—and time is money.
Like buying a new car, starting a new story is a big deal. You need to put some thought into it, because you’ll be spending a great deal of time and effort on it. But it’s also a moment of joy and excitement, because you’re beginning a new journey and the road may take you to unexpected places.
So let the odometer spin, and roll on!