Take command of the intersection

My dad taught me and my two sisters to drive. In addition to being a skilled driver who used to take the narrow roads of rural Ireland at a fast clip, he teaches marine firefighting to land-based fire fighters. When I say “safety!” you say “professional!” My sisters and I grew up playing in smokehouses and life rafts, and tucking-and-rolling from slowly moving firetrucks. It was the perfect combination of risk and risk prevention.

So it was no wonder that accident preparedness would be a big part of our driving lessons. One of our exercises involved driving to a quiet dead-end road early in the morning. My dad would set up approximately seven 10-gallon buckets in a V, about 20 feet wide. We would then drive at the centre point of the V at 50 km an hour, and at the last minute he would shout “LEFT!” or “RIGHT!” and I would swerve the car, taking out the buckets in the process.

Lots of fun. Very messy. Sphincter-clenchingly scary. But the lesson sunk in.

One of his best pieces of advice was to “take command of the intersection.” If you’re making a left turn, don’t inch out into the intersection, hoping people notice. Get out there. Take up space. Make your intention known to all passing cars and pedestrians. You’re driving a vehicle, not going in for a high-five and then running your hand through your hair, “cool cool,” when you’re rebuffed. In which case: you’re not going anywhere, chump.

The same goes for your writing. You want to write a scene set in the Everglades in 1976? Immerse yourself in that world, research it to death. Readers can tell when you’re inching your way along, hoping they’ll figure out what you’re up to. Put that indicator on and get to work!

You can see the little arrow flashing on your dashboard; make sure others see the blinking light. When you have carved out precious time and space to do your writing, give clear signals that you won’t be disturbed or sent in another direction unless you plan on it. Turn on your auto-responder, always sit down at your desk at 5 am before your kids get up, book a writing retreat. When I’m deep in an edit, I have my headphones in and my back turned to the rest of the office. Keep an eye open for incoming distractions, and don’t allow yourself to be T-boned. Own the intersection.

The best way to crash is to not pay attention to the road ahead, to be distracted by pretty objects on the sidelines. True story: this week I almost crashed into a parked car because I was ogling a heritage home in East Vancouver. Don’t let it happen to you: choose a destination, plan your route, scan the intersection, and turn.

“I’m turning left. Look, everyone, my blinker is on, and I’m turning left. I am so happy to be alive, driving along, making a left turn. I’m serious. I am doing exactly what I want to be doing at this moment: existing on a Tuesday, going about my business, on my way somewhere, turning left.”
— Amy Krouse Rosenthal

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