They say moving is one of the most stressful events in a person’s life, second only to the death of a loved one. I believe it. But it occurred to me recently as I was driving down I-95 for the fifth time, shuttling between suburban Maryland and my new hometown in North Carolina, trying to keep straight in my mind a list of things I had to remember to do while concentrating on not crashing my loaded car, that the mental contortions that I was going through were, or at least they felt so to me, just like those my brain undergoes when I am in the throes of writing a novel. In both instances there are just too many things one needs to remember, and not only remember but constantly keep in mind because one event almost always influences another.
Did I remember to have the utilities turned off? On? Has the realtor put in the closing extension paper? Did the termite guy turn in his report? Did the movers deliver the boxes? Did I remember to put in a scene in Chapter One about the restraining order, or did I just think that I should do it? Is there enough backstory about Maria? Does Trevor need a Dark Secret in his past? What the hell is going to happen in the end?
Look out! Jesus, where did that truck come from? Where am I? Richmond! I can’t be in Richmond already. Where the hell did the last 45 miles go?
I’m sure you’ve had the same experience: you’re alone in the car on a trip, you’re driving along and suddenly you notice you’ve been on autopilot for X number of dangerous miles. This lost time might have been spent in simple reverie, but in the two experiences I’m discussing here, Moving and Novel Writing, you can blame the intense mental work involved with each.
And that’s just the technical details, the lists of Things To Do. That’s to say nothing of the extreme pain that involves both. Most people have the experience of at least one big-time move in their lives. Say from a house of many years where you’ve raised a family and piled up all the crap that one collects and suddenly you have to figure out what to throw away and what to take with you. Same thing with a book. You’ve piled up many pages over the years it’s taken to produce a draft and suddenly you realize the damn thing needs to be drastically cut (every novel needs to be cut) so you agonize over what’s important – to you and to the book – and throw out what isn’t. So that’s what you’re doing hurtling south on I-95 at 75 miles an hour. Throwing things out, making lists, rearranging furniture and material.
Look out, world. There’s a guy on the highway with 14 boxes of books and other assorted crap in the back of his vehicle and he’s got a lot on his mind. Or maybe he’s a novelist and he’s blocking out a scene where the sailing ship has an encounter with a white whale. In either case, he’s dangerous. Trust me, I know. That guy is me.