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Eyes Up, Writers

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On Twitter today — and everyday — there was some chatter and scuffle about Some Authors’ Careers and Some Authors’ Fame and whether they had deserved it. Some folks invariably said the chatter and scuffle was jealousy. Some others invariably said not everything is jealousy.

Here’s what I think: having a writing career is like driving a race car.

I’m not really a grand race car driver, mostly because I’ve discovered that I don’t really care about winning against anyone but myself, which turns out to be not the point of organized sports. But I have been in race cars, and on race tracks, and have spent many hours doing classwork at over 70 mph. Enough to know that a writing career is a lot like driving a race car.

One of the things they teach you in every single form of car racing is to keep your eyes up. Up. Upper than that. Upper than even that. Don’t look at the dash, because then you won’t see what’s happening on the road. Don’t look at the road right in front of you, because you won’t see that the turn you’re going into links into another turn and you could set yourself up for both. Put your eyes up as far as you can see down the road, and look there. Only when you see the absolute farthest point can you start to calculate the best way of getting there.

(this is great advice to use when you’re driving normally, by the way)

A writing career is like that. Use your peripheral vision to look at the things that are coming at you day to day, but never forget that every decision should contribute that farthest-away-point you want to get to. Never forget that every tiny success and failure is just a steer or counter steer toward the real point of the thing.

And here’s the other thing they tell you about keeping your eyes up: don’t fixate on the person in front of you. If there’s another driver just in front of you, the tendency is to stare at their bumper and then take the turn just like they do. But guess what? Then the absolute best scenario is that you will take the turn just like they do. So if they’re taking it wrong, you’ll take it wrong too. If there’s a better way, a faster way, a cooler way, a way that involves painting a giant knife on the side of your car and listening to Finnish rap very loudly, you’ll never know.

Eyes up, drivers, they say: look past the car in front of you. All you need to do is to note them well enough that you can pass them when you find a better way to take the turn.

Don’t fixate, writers. Eyes up, writers. I don’t care if x or y is doing a or b. What does that have to do with me? I have my eyes on where I want to go, and no one else matters.

The race is Maggie vs. Maggie. Who are you competing with?

  • Steve MC

    Great tip. You could also say don’t stay right on someone’s ass, ’cause then that’s all you’ll be seeing. And if everyone follows the lead car, then everyone ends up on the same road, bumper to bumper. When the best roads are often those you discover on your own, going your own way.

  • Quentin, Jenna

    Sounds good! I liked the bit about competing against ourselves. They say lots of writers are runners…we compete against our own best time there too. Thanks!

  • trader mare

    Loved this post. Very inspiring. Thank you.

  • L.S. Mooney

    Yes! As a dancer I comforted and motivated myself with Mikhail Baryshnikov’s quote “I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” I clearly should keep it around for writing as well 🙂

  • linda sands

    I love this, as a car and race enthusiast and a struggling author with many successful writer pals. One thingI find to be true with all winners is that they will all agree timing was everything… here’s to our time coming soon.

  • Kate Brauning

    Love it. So true.

  • Tim Wallis

    Excellent post Maggie. It’s the first of yours I’ve ever read, and it won’t be the last… for now I’m going to get back to writing.

  • Christina Tretter

    I just wanted to let you know that it’s a wonderful summer evening, I’m curled up with three dogs and a(nother) beer, and I’m just settling in with the The Raven Boys.

    You’ve made at least one person very happy. 🙂

  • Meg Rivers-Wright

    “Put your eyes up as far as you can see down the road, and look there. Only when you see the absolute farthest point can you start to calculate the best way of getting there.”

    This is so true for teaching, as well: What do I want my students to know and be able to do? Given where they are now, what’s the best way of getting them there?

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  • Rachel

    Hi, Maggie! I have read all of your YA novels (minus the recently released Sinner) and have just finished Lament and Ballad. I was wondering if you had a status update on Requiem. Please say it isn’t dead in the water!

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  • Liz Taylor

    First time reader of your blog, loved this piece such excellent advice now I need to put it into practice (goes off to try and put it into practice)thanks!

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Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

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Copyright 2012