Creative Process

On Writing In The Car

By February 15, 2014 22 Comments

Writing In Car

I’m writing this in the car, something which I’ve had much practice doing.

It started in university, where bus rides to and from classes were the norm. My head would be bowed whether I was standing or sitting, my thumbs tapping furiously into my smartphone as though I had a truly fabulous social life.

When I was braver, I’d claim a seat in the back and whip out my laptop. Tap, tap, tap, delete, tap, command + S. Inevitably, I’d be in class and someone would tap my shoulder and ask why I chronically procrastinate on papers until the very last minute.

The writing in the car thing didn’t come until nearly a year after graduation, after I started traveling and working in coffee shops and wondering why the days and nights bleed into each other.

You can say that I write in the car because

a) Occasionally, it’s the only time I get to write
b) Without Internet, what else is there to do?
c) Most epiphanies occur away from the desk

but it’s more than that.

I’m convinced that the passenger’s seat is made for inducing trance-like states. The rhythm of the road is inherently hypnotizing. Up, down, curve, bump. Stop, speed up, signal, and, in the winter, skid. The patterns repeat just like the tap, tap, tap of the keyboard and the ticking of your internal clock.

Then there’s the feeling that you’re going somewhere. Not just going somewhere physically, but with your novel, your short story, that poetry collection you’ve been drafting since forever. The clouds roll and the streets expand and people become multi-coloured blurs. The scenery changes every time you look up. You are weightless and can do anything.

You look to your right and see buildings as blank as fresh canvases.

To your left are trees that stretch to the sky.

The car is the shell that contains all the memories that fall out of your body. Rocked back and forth, front and back, everything you know to be true splatters onto the laptop screen: the relationship that slashed your heart, the serendipity of meeting a childhood friend in a mall in another country, the parent who had no right and the belief that you had all of it.

The rhythm of the road allows you to bypass all these knots and frayed ends. Anonymity suddenly becomes very powerful currency. If you need to silence the outside world, you can roll the windows up. If you need to silence your inner world, you can turn on the radio or close your eyes. The car is designed for transportation, but made for productivity.

Yellow lines, white lines, lines that cut off suddenly and lines that twist and turn.

Just like the story of your life.

Just like the story of your story.

There’s a home for every writer on the road.

I’ve built entire worlds in a car, and I’m going to build a few more.

Join the discussion 22 Comments

  • Great post. The ever revolving scenery is a great stimulus.

    Alas, I don’t have a car though, so this hard to do. I can work with trains though.

    Also, I got a new blog now. With new writing and stuff. And your posts helped a lot with that, so thank you.

    • Millie Ho says:

      I second you on writing in trains. I was on a 12-hour train ride once and (minus the cramped space and second-hand smoke) it jumpstarted an idea I had for a webcomic that I’m currently working on.

      Thanks for the link! I’m glad to have helped.

  • andy1076 says:

    It’s funny how sometimes there’s more ideas to write in the car eh 🙂

  • geekritiqued says:

    Hope you’re not the one driving!

  • Paul Rotter says:

    “Yellow lines, white lines, lines that cut off suddenly and lines that twist and turn.

    Just like the story of your life.

    Just like the story of your story.

    There’s a home for every writer on the road.” << Brilliant, I love this!

    I love the feeling of being on the road, but rarely have a written while in motion (I'm usually a driver instead of a passenger). Even as a driver I find that it is a great opportunity for collecting thoughts, especially on long road trips. Anyway, thanks for the new perspective 🙂

  • Hi Millie,
    You say this so well! Makes me want to hit the road again.

  • Jen says:

    I’ve been saying for years now that I need the perfect dictating app for the car. My problem is that I am often driving when the glorious ideas come to me. And I have ZERO traffic lights, no pullovers, at all on the winding 30 minute drive through hills I take to work. That said, I can totally relate to this post. From the moment I saw the headline, I was sold!

    • Millie Ho says:

      So true! I’ve been looking into dictation apps and so far only Dragon Dictation has potential. It would be nice to have a recording function in the car itself, though that might bring to life all the terrible horror flicks ever made in the ’80s.

  • Yeesh! Even this post made me travel sick. Reading and writing in a car are both impossible, though fine if travelling by train. In fact, buses are fine for reading too, so perhaps it’s something about the proximity of the view: the fact that in a car, at least half of your periphery is taken up with moving scenery… and ignoring all that movement to focus intently on words is just nausea-inducing.

    So am I really the only one here that feels this way?

    • Millie Ho says:

      I take that as a compliment (that the post made you travel sick).

      Over the years, I’ve discovered a connection between people who can stand a) writing in a moving vehicle and people who can stand b) writing with music. Someone told me that writing to a playlist takes away distractions from your writing environment—including sensations of nausea. Try it sometime.

  • josiah says:

    I do miss the passenger seat.

  • Things that stop me from writing on a laptop in the car: 1. I am always the driver. 2. The sheer discomfort. But I’m with you on all the rest… Many a writing dilemma has been solved on the road 🙂

  • I’m not a writer but when traveling I get many interesting ideas to develop about my photographic projects. Unfortunately most of time I’m the driver and cannot take notes…hmmm maybe an app can help to record or not …it depends if I’m alone or no, , I’m jealous of my ideas when they are in a development stage…ok, at least I get ideas when I’m in a car 🙂

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