Car Writer

by | May 29, 2010

For new visitors: Saturday is the day I take to write about pretty much whatever strikes me, frequently off-topic. A recipe might appear once in a while, or a memory. It’s Saturday—take a minute. Enjoy.

May 28, 2010 / By the side of the road rounding Back Ranch / 8:07 a.m. Friday, Sunny

I’m not sure how it started, exactly. We were given assignments—ten-minute free writes—and told to bring in the results at the next class. Like anybody else, I suppose, I would find a quiet spot—the dining room when it was empty, maybe out on the patio in the nice weather—grab the composition book and kitchen timer and head out to get it done.

Or maybe it happened while I was waiting for the end of a guitar lesson, trying to stay warm on a dark night downtown. Maybe arriving too early for the pickup at school. Or maybe it was not having time in the days leading up to the writing class and finding myself behind. I’d pull into the parking lot at the darkened office building where the other writers waited upstairs. Just sit in the parking lot with the book on my lap, playing catch-up like some 11th grader late with his homework.

But at some point my writing place just moved right into my car. I know, I know, this is against all the advice of writing teachers, coaches, and trainers.

There is, however, something quintessentially American and individualistic about this practice. At least that’s what I tell myself, as I glide to a stop on the side of the road.

Now I write in my car every day. Composition book and Natalie Goldberg’s Old Friend from Far Away lie on the floor behind my seat, ready.

At times the way I locate myself is like a deep breath. With a little warm coffee in me, I soon enough plunge into the place where memory, regret and inspiration sit and sing sad songs together.

I’ve got my favorite spots, but it’s not important exactly where they are. I’m a creature of habit, reassured by the familiar tempo of the morning.

I don’t like spectacular views, they’re much too distracting. Same for noisy places and roads with too much traffic, spots next to the pathway where young women do their jogging and dog walking, or anyplace where the outside world draws too powerfully on my attention.

Like today here at Back Ranch. I slow and pull off the road near the gatehouse. At this hour there’s no one around. The car clicks to a stop. Instead of a car, I feel like I’m inside a traveling den, or a mobile writing studio. I set my timer for 10 or 15 minutes. As it begins, I achieve the unthinkable: total privacy.

Anonymous in my car, just another guy parked at the back of the parking lot or off on the verge of the road that winds around the Bay, or backed into a spot under the big bridge, I am alone, happily lost in memory and invention.

A few days ago I switched to the iPad, and haven’t gone back to the composition book. The iPad sits on the passenger seat, where I can’t even see these words as I type them. Strangely, instead of getting anxious about whether I’m typing gibberish, this seems to free me, and I find I’ve slipped behind the back of Monkey Mind. The bottom drops out of the world, and the adventure begins.

When I get going the little keyboard slides around, I’ve got my eyes closed, and suddenly a painful memory rises up. It grabs me by the ankle, pulling me down towards the inky dark that lies at the bottom of the lake of consciousness.

Maybe there are a lot of us car writers, thousands of quiet men and women sitting in mall parking lots, off the side of country roads, pulled over on the way to work, all furiously writing, halfway blind to the panorama on the other side of the safety glass. Like some big fraternity of secret scribblers, away from the dogs, away from the kids, outside the range of errands, just writing our hearts out.

But no matter, I turn my thoughts in again and just keep tapping. I’ll stop when the timer goes off . . . , or will I? Maybe I’ll just sit here and let the business of the day pass me by. The appointments un-kept, the proofs un-sent, the calls un-returned.

Maybe I’ll let that hand that grabbed me pull me down—I won’t fight it. They’ll come looking for me, of course, but what will they find, really? A guy by the side of the road, lost in an the embrace of an internal lover, hoping, just hoping, the damn battery doesn’t run out.

Image: iPhone Text: iPad with Bluetooth keyboard and only mild irritation at having to poke the screen once in a while.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Joel Friedlander

    Tim, you should try it. I do the dictate thing also, but there’s nothing like the solitude of your own car to provide a great spot for a ten minute write.

  2. Tim King

    Yeah, I often think about a WiP while I’m driving. I’ve even been known to dictate thoughts into a recording device while driving. Never stopped to pull over yet, though. :-)


  3. Joel Friedlander

    Very nice, Vincent, thanks for the link. I enjoyed your post and how you gave people lots of options to explore.

    For myself, I have to fight against the urge to be “safe” and instead try to just open my eyes to what’s all around me.

  4. Michael N. Marcus

    The iPad is great for writing in a car, or at a picnic table.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Picnic table sounds good to me about now. Also quite good in a coffee shop with the dock stand to hold it upright.

      • Michael N. Marcus

        The iPad works great in bed, too, and in a doctor’s waiting room, or while on jury duty, or on a plane. Buses and trains may be too bumpy for typing.

  5. KMthr

    Hi Joel,
    I’m new to Twitter and to your tweets. I’ve written a book but am very reluctant to do anything till I’m a little more informed on marketing and distribution. Have already seen heaps I wish to read on your site.
    To reciprocate in kind to your random Saturday post, here’s a pointer on picking a perfect avocado from the greengrocer’s. Press the top of its narrow end and if you feel some yield it is ripe and ready. Here’s hoping you like avocadoes.

    • Joel Friedlander

      K, thanks for visiting. I’m an active and enthusiastic Tweeter, I think if you follow some good people you will soon get the hang of it. You might be interested in the list I put together:

      52 Fantastic Twitter Follows for Self-Publishers

      Thanks for the avocado “tip” that’s bound to come in handy.



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