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Bon voyage = На добър път. Somewhere in Bulgaria.

Driving Hungry, and 5 Hints from a Struggling Writer

Bon voyage = На добър път. Somewhere in Bulgaria.

This blog is not dead. It’s on book leave.

After five years, three hemispheres, and a lot of cab rides, I finally get to tell the story behind the story of Taxi Gourmet.

Driving Hungry, the book based on this blog, is coming out in 2014 – and it’s the reason I’ve become a lapsed blogger.

It didn’t take long for the euphoria of finding a publisher to wear off. Now, in between moments of wondering why I ever wanted to write a book, I’ve become very good at working myself into a frenzy over how impossible it seems.

But I’m not here to whine.

I’m here because I’d like to tell you some things I’m learning in the strange, painful, occasionally joyful process of writing this thing.

If you came here to read about a taxi adventure, I owe you a story. (You’ve probably clicked somewhere else by now anyway.)

But if you’re still reading, and if you’re thinking about writing a book, or if you’re struggling with one, here are five hints you might consider. Please take what you need and throw the rest away. And if you’ve heard some of this stuff before, that’s because it’s true.

1. Read great writers who are writing about the places and events and people and food you want to write about. Try to be inspired and not intimidated. Right now I’m re-reading Henry Miller’s The Colossus of Maroussi – a mostly masterful travelogue about Miller’s dreamy journey around Greece – and “The South” by Jorge Luis Borges – my favorite short story set in Argentina.

(You can also read terrible books that have been published in your genre and spend some time trying to pinpoint why their stuff isn’t working, so you can learn from their mistakes. Is the writer too self-aware? Not self-aware enough? No sense of humor?)

2. Gather quotes (from some of the great writers you’re reading?) that move you and/or relate to your story, and save them in one place. When you’re preparing to start a new chapter, sift through these quotes and figure out which one best communicates the message you want to communicate. Depending on what you’re writing, you can even put your chosen quote at the beginning of your chapter. You can erase it later if you want. The point is to use someone else’s beautifully expressed idea as a springboard to express your own. For example:

“I had many strange experiences in cabs myself. In New York mostly, and in other places. So what I really liked was the idea that in a taxi you are in a space with someone alone and you have nothing invested in your relationship. You can say whatever you want. You can be completely honest or dishonest.” — Jim Jarmusch, in an interview about Night on Earth (maybe the greatest taxi film ever made)

3. Find a writing partner. For you introverted types who think you can skip this step, I’m telling you you can’t. Well, you can, but if you do, it will just make your writing life more difficult. A writing partner will give you two things you desperately need if you’re writing something big: a deadline and constructive feedback.

Your writing partner should be, most importantly, someone who will be honest with you about your work. Someone whose work you respect. Someone who can tell you what’s working and what’s not working in your story.

Every week, or every other week, my writing partner and I meet. We commit to sending each other a piece of work a day or two beforehand. I read her stuff and comment and suggest. She reads my stuff and comments and suggests. You can’t do this over the internet. Well, you can, but it’s not as good, and you can’t share rhubarb soda.

4. Kill your television. Or give it away. Or throw it out the window, as I’ve seen people in Berlin do. If you can’t kill your television, find a place where you can go and write, without internet access. I had a friend in Buenos Aires who told me he was finally able to finish his script – after years of trying – because he couldn’t get internet in his apartment. The idea is to be honest with yourself about what distracts you, and to figure out the best way to contend with it. (Damn you, instant email alerts.)

5. Find a writing support to turn to when you’re stuck. This can be a book on writing (Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott is a classic for a reason). It can be a Writer’s Digest webinar. It can be a movie about a writer you admire or loathe, or about the writing process itself (Adaptation is a good one). Have you ever listened to Selected Shorts? If you can’t find a way to move forward with your story, at least you can nourish your writing self in the meantime, and feed the feeling that you’re growing as a writer.

PS – If you’ve already written a book or two, and if you’re so inspired, please feel free to chime in with your insights. We who are about to write salute you.

PPS – I haven’t forgotten I owe anyone who’s still reading this blog a story about a taxi adventure. Please stay tuned for a delicious one from Rome.

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  1. How did you finance your travel?

  2. Layne! Did you write this post directly for me? I think you must have. I’m guilty of all the sins mentioned above. Too many distractions. Finding a writing partner who is equally capable of distraction. Pretending to myself it’s really, really important to read that article on making cheese in your home kitchen before I sit down to write. Sigh. What I really need is a fierce headmistress standing over me with a big stick in one hand, and my internet cable in the other.

    Cheers from Shanghai, Fiona

    • Fiona! I think it’s natural to sin and be distracted as we struggle with words. But we keep writing. I know what you mean about wishing for a fierce headmistress – I’m from California, though, so I’ve conjured up this character in the form of a feel-good angel who brings me snacks. I can’t wait to read whatever you’re writing. Please keep me posted!
      Cheers from Berlin – and thank you for reading,

  3. I really believed you might have given up on this venture and moved on to some new phase. Okay, okay…i really thought you were being pursued by two warring factions of German metrosexuals. They irrelevantly and mistakenly think it crucial to discover whether you would cast your vote for Obama or Mittens. Just when all seems lost, you yell out, “look that place makes the best Curry Wurst”! What German can resist that? This gives you enough time to escape to Paris(on the Concorde no less), where you emerge as Madame Fifi. To earn your “pain quotidien” you become a jazz singer and soon after Paris has a new conquerer. But then again Jazz is terrible(the same note over and over but everyone pretends it is different) and the French don’t know any better because they can admit no wrong. Safe at the moment, you enjoy your success. If you would like to read more about your adventures…please wait for the sequel.

    Glad you are writing a book. Good luck. If you can still stomach more reading….i highly recommend books like the Odyssey, Canterbury Tales, Arabian Nights, and the Decameron because they are as much about the journey as they are about the stories . At the heart of your writing is the stories behind the food and the people who are taking you to it.

    In case you need more inspiration:

    Ps. I am glad you said, “We who are about to write salute you”. The Roman Legions used, “We who are about to die salute you”.

    • Brainy, thank you for your encouragement, and for continuing to read this blog – as erratic as it is!
      Your possible scenarios are really quite something – in a good way – would that life were that romantic!! I’m waiting (patiently) for the sequel.
      All the best to you from Berlin – I wish you a delicious doener kebab in the very near future.

  4. No prob Layne. With the small sketch, i was just being silly or really trying to channel Candide albeit not wanting to create my own horrible, catastrophic events befall the main character of the story.

    There won’t be a sequel. See you will always have Paris, forever. That’s a happy ending.

    Best of luck with your book, again!

  5. Hey Layne,

    I’m glad to hear the battle continues. I figured that’s what had to have been keeping you away. I hope that you’re winning!

    I’m really looking forward to the book. Be sure to drop a line if you need help with anything. Chris and I have been hosting a bunch of Europeans lately through couchsurfing, maybe we’ll make a trip to Berlin for the launch (though I guess it would probably be in the US?)

    Anyway, keep fighting the good fight. :-)

    • Ryan, thank you for your support and encouragement. I have no idea where launching is happening but I will keep you posted – it would be better than great if you and Chris were there.

      Know that you’re always welcome in Berlin – launch or no, schmaltz awaits you.

  6. What wonderful advice, and what a cherished glimpse in to your journey.