Sunday, 10 April 2016

Driving Myself MAD - by Eve Ainsworth


I’m currently learning to drive. God help the human race.

I’m doing this for a number of reasons:
  • I need to be more independent and able to get to places in the middle of nowhere without relying on the goodwill of others.
  • I want to be able to take my kids to places that I can’t at the moment.
  • I want to be able to do some school visits without having to rely on three trains, a tram and a taxi ride.
  • I hate buses.

The fourth point was reinforced when a bus driver kindly pulled in to the bus stop, and then immediately pulled out again, despite the fact I was standing RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM, leaving me and two kids stranded into torrential rain. I decided at that moment enough was enough and I needed to get my act together and learn to drive.

To be honest, I’m not very good at it. I’m obviously not a natural born diver. But going through the motions has made me realise that there are some similarities between driving and trying to write a new book:
  • At first everything is overwhelming. You look around your new car/blank page and you haven’t got a clue where to begin. It’s scary. You wonder why the hell you’re doing this.
  • You start. You stutter. The gears stall/your keys clunk. You keep messing up. You feel rubbish. You stall at a major roundabout or freeze during a manoeuvre in a busy street. Meanwhile as a writer you are stalling at chapter three, looking grimly at your work – you can’t remember how to write a sentence. You hate it all. You delete six pages.
  • You see everyone else driving much faster and better than you, you feel inferior and inexperienced and stuck in the slow lane. Other ‘not so nice’ drivers flash and overtake you. You wonder why you are doing this at all. As a writer, you see others get their books published/win awards/ get new deals – they all seem to be doing better than you, and you worry that you’re not good enough.
  • Other people will start to tell you how you should drive your car better, how you should ‘do your test now’ and ‘just get on with it’. Other people will question why it is taking you so long to learn in the first place. They will ask why they haven’t seen you out on the road yet and make you feel cross.  As a writer, the other people will also question you – they will ask you why you ‘only write children’s books’ and tell you of ways that you can make more money. They will ask why they haven’t seen your book in their bookshop and make you feel cross.
  • As you drive a bit more, your confidence lifts a little, but then you make a big mistake - you pull out in front of another driver and it shakes and you want to give up. As a writer your confidence grows a little whilst writing and then you hit a block. You can’t find your way round it and it shakes you. You want to give up.
  • You finally put in for a test. You fail. You finally submit your novel. You’re rejected.
  • After lots of tears, sleepless nights and biscuit consumption – you pass your test. You feel happy, overwhelmed and shocked. You suffer imposter syndrome. After lots of tears, sleepless nights and biscuit consumption your book is accepted. You feel happy overwhelmed and shocked. You suffer imposter syndrome.
  • You continue writing/driving with mixture of excitement and anticipation. Glad you did it, but well aware to avoid any pot holes that might be awaiting you.

Can I just add that I haven’t actually passed my test yet, I’m just imagining what it feels like!

Does anyone else agree with this analogy?


Eve Ainsworth is the author of Crush and 7 Days (Scholastic)  7 Days was nominated for the 2015/16 Carnegie Medal and was winner of the Dudley Teen Prize and FAB Books Prize 2016


Susan Price said...

Brilliant post, Eve!
I learned to drive very late in life myself - and then had another gap of several years where I didn't drive because I couldn't afford a car.
I got back in a car for similar reasons to you - our lovely caring sharing Tory party privatised our transport system and it immediately became three times worse than it had ever been, and travelling by it to distant schools became utterly miserable.
I recognise so much of what you say. There is a lot in common between learning to write and learning to read too. Insensitive people who had lots of encouragement as children and learned to read as infants have forgotten how difficult it actually is, and glibly equate illiteracy with stupidity.
People who had driving lessons at 16, passed on the first or second attempt, and have been driving for their whole lives since (take my partner, for instance - go on, take him,)have long ago forgotten just how much they struggled with driving and just how many years of practice they've had since, and assume that when you stall or clash the gears, it's simply because you're dim.
An expert teacher of adult literacy once told me that it takes at least 8 years to learn to read fluently. Most of us, who read well, don't realise this because we learned the basics when we were small and didn't notice how long it took. And we've built on those basics since, year by year. When you stop and think how complicated is the task of sight-reading a page - recognising and translating into sound and meaning all those arbitrary symbols, it's amazing that anyone can do it.
The same applies to driving. Just think of all the information that you're trying to take in, the tasks you're trying to perform, the decisions you're taking, while hurtling along at 40 miles an hour inside a metal box.
My advice: take it slow and refuse to let anyone harry you. Remember how difficult it is and how much practice you need. Tell anybody who tries to tell you any different to shut up, to go away and really think about their own first attempts.
I well remember going round a huge and busy roundabout, crowded with juggernauts on either side, absolutely terrified, and feeling that I was required to think about and do fifty different things in the same nano-second. And if that's an exaggeration, it's correct in one thing: when you begin learning to drive, it is sheer overload for your brain. (Speed limit? What gear? What do those lines on the road mean? Aaargh, a cyclist! What does that sign mean, have I ever seen it before? etc, etc)

It does get easier. I can promise you that. The time came when I was able to zip round that same roundabout, smoothly and safely, while chatting to a passenger. You'll get there. It may seem impossible now, but you will. And then you'll be able to sling bags and boxes of heavy books in the boot and drive yourself to any school in the country - or drive your children anywhere for a day out. It is worth it.

Another bit of advice - after you've passed your test, as soon as you feel capable, take the Advanced Driving Course with the Institute of Advanced Motorists (AIM). I did that a couple of years ago, met some great instructors and my driving is now much, much better, more confident and more relaxed.

Passing the initial test is like something like being able to read at Primary Level. Just as you need a lot more practice and challenge to become a really fluent reader, you need more practice out on the road and the more intensive training of the Advanced Course to become a really good, fluent driver.
I have gone on a bit, haven't I? But I thought your post was so good and on the button. Wishing you all the best.

Eve Ainsworth said...

Thank you so much Susan, it's great to know I'm not alone!
I think I will take your advice an do the Advanced course, seems a very wise thing to do

Penny Dolan said...

Having a reason to drive and pass the test is a great incentive, Eve. If I had any advice, it is to learn to trust your own rhythm and judgement. Different people have different levels of perception and it's easy to feel harassed when someone insists "You can go now! Go, go!" when YOU haven't yet absorbed all the information you need.

Good luck!

Lynne Benton said...

Great post, and great analogy! My advice (for driving) would be to ask someone really calm to go out with you. I remember stalling at traffic lights and panicking about the cars waiting behind me, while my passenger (the one who could drive) said calmly, "Don't worry. They've all been learners once." Which made me feel better. Good luck with your test - and with your next book!