No, not literally.
This summer, we had a massive heat wave here in Salt Lake, and a curious thing happened after driving around in 102° F heat for a week solid. My speedometer stopped working.
But it didn't stop dead, laying at the bottom of the dial like a sunken boat. Instead, it hovered at twenty miles per hour, the needle staying completely steady no matter how fast I went. Unless, that is, I went below twenty miles per hour, and then it began flailing wildly back and forth until I either came to a dead stop or drove faster (either of which would return the needle to 20mph).
Luckily, I only drive manual cars, so I had some cues about my speed, and I never got pulled over (imagine that exchange!), but I never pass up an opportunity to learn something about life, writing, and everything wherever I can. And learn I did.
I stopped paying attention to how fast I was going, and started paying attention to other drivers and the road, and when I knew I needed to be places. The only feedback I had was the gearbox, the road flying past, and the dancing needle when I slowed down below 20mph. And I did what I had to to arrive at my destination when I needed to be there, never knowing how fast I went between the start and end of my journey.
It was freeing, frightening, and instructive. And now I do my best to ignore the speedometer – fixed with the cold weather – and to pay more attention to my surroundings and just getting where I am going.
I have noticed a lot of my fellow writers planning their daily word counts, planning their plots, planning their everything in preparation for November.
The logic seems good: to reach 50,000 words, all we need to do is write an average of 1,667 words each day. And while this seems to be a reasonable, steady pace, I have yet to meet any piece of writing that is either steady or reasonable. Why should we expect the process to be anything but chaotic?
Stop worrying about speed and planning. Break the damn speedometer, and pay attention to the terrain instead.
All novels and stories have their own biorhythm, their own unique terrain; some corners need to be navigated slowly, other bits are long straightaways where we can really test how fast the old girl can go. Sometimes we are running late and need to speed, other times the road is crowded and dangerous and we must slow down and make creeping but steady progress toward the goal, the end.
We don't need to worry so much. The only plan needed is this: start at the beginning, work steadily to the end, and finish on time. Speed up, slow down, climb hills, and take detours (the best part). It may take some of us longer than others, but the distance driven is the same for all.
Enjoy the journey. Relax. And write.
Also? Never backtrack! The backspace key is for when the cat or the kids “help” with typing. This road is one way only—forward.