Anne Lamott wrote, “E.L. Doctorow said once that ‘Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice on writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
As writers, we need guides to help us through and out of the fog just as surely as a seaman needs foghorn and compass. In my Jimmy Brackett manuscript, Jimmy must row from Peaks Island to House Island and onward across Portland Harbor to reach the shop where he works. He must use all of his skills and senses to pick his way from island to island and then reach the Portland waterfront, bustling with Civil War-era activity.
Like Jimmy, we all need stepping stones to find the way, reassuring strategies that help us see as far as our headlights can reach during our journey.
The reassuring stepping stone for me right now is hearing my mentor, Rachel Harper of the Spalding MFA program, tell me that it’s time to prepare the agent query letter and submit my manuscript. “This is what you’ve been training for. You’re ready to come out in front of someone. It’s a journey that’s not easy, but you’ve got to go on it,” Rachel said. I’m at that moment where it’s time to stop editing, time to let go of it. It’s time to find the bravery to take that next step.
So expect to hear more from me soon about one-sentence synopses and query letters. I’m grabbing the oars. If I want Jimmy Brackett to reach the mainland, I have to start the long row across the foggy harbor.