What Riding a Motorcycle Taught Me About Writing

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motorbikeI’ve owned five motorcycles in the past 30 years and ridden tens of thousands of prayer-packed, injury-free miles.

The lessons I’ve learned from riding motorcycles profoundly illustrate virtually every aspect of life.

Among the lessons I’ve learned are four that relate to writing.

Tip #1: Getting Started

The hardest part of riding a motorcycle or writing is getting started.

It doesn’t matter how much chrome your bike has, how fast it will go or whether it has heated seats, a six-speaker stereo, a GPS or reverse. It’s not a motorcycle until you start rolling. Up until that point, it might as well be a planter on your front porch.

I’ve met people who can rattle off the plots for a half-dozen books and/or screenplays they’ve concocted, but haven’t written. Nice thoughts. Great plans. Cool insights. But you don’t become a writer based on what you would write if you wrote something.  

You must begin to write.

You can find people like me, The Message Therapist, who will tell you that you have to write every morning. Some will insist that you must write every evening about what happened during your day. Others say write whenever you can seize a moment or two.

Who cares? It’s not about when, it’s about getting started. You’ll figure out the “when” once you get some practice.  

For a motorcyclist, getting started means putting on a helmet (for those clever enough to choose to protect their brains if they go down) and “suiting up.” What does that look like for a writer? Maybe you need to go to a quiet place with wi-fi. Maybe you need to go to a GimmeYourBucks coffee shop for inspiration. You’ll need to gather your tools, unplug yourself from distractions and focus before you begin to write.

If you’re out for a joyride, it doesn’t matter if you know exactly where you’re going and which route you’ll take. Those who love writing – and that’s what it takes to be a professional, in my humble opinion – do so for many reasons, including “just for fun.”

If you have a destination in mind, that’s great. Keep your focus on where you’re going. Don’t freak out if there are detours or delays or impediments along the way. That’s part of the enjoyment of riding a bike … or creating a story.  

Flow with it all. Riding and writing and reading are all about the journey, not the destination.

Tip #2: Keep Moving

After decades of riding bikes, it is my opinion that the hardest thing to do is: going slow. That’s how I’ve dropped my bikes more times than I’ll admit. That’s how you lose your balance – especially when the chicklet behind you decides it’s time to stand up and adjust her whatever. You take your eyes off the road or your story … you wobble … and Blam! You’re down.

The slower you go the easier it is to slip up. Too many details or too many rabbit trails, too many convoluted adjectives or cutesy quips make you lose your focus.

The hardest stuff to read is the prose that … just … inches … along … and doesn’t seem … to move … or make any progress … or go anywhere. Lose your balance on a bike and you crash. Lose your balance in your story and you’ll lose your reader.  

The best writing moves stories along with:

  • characters that become real
  • the primary plot that is interesting
  • various story lines that are unusual
  • lessons you’re trying to impart
  • hints along the way about how the story might end and 
  • what it would be like for your reader to be in the action.

When you’re on the road or in a story, pay attention to your surroundings and the people you meet along the way. Readers are curious. They want to know if there are storm clouds on the horizon, who waves at you, who flips you off and why.

 “A middle-aged man/woman fears life is slipping away without the adventures she/he expected to have along the way. Over the spouse’s objections, he/she struts into a shop and buys a $25,000 bike (not including the upgraded exhaust system, chrome and those goofy leather flog things on the grips) that she/he has no idea how to operate. Three years later, after riding 900 terrifying miles, he/she sells it and loses $7,500.”

Can you make a story out of that? The motivation to buy the bike. The compulsion to upgrade it before riding one mile. What it was like the first time he/she hit traffic or had to fiddle with the clutch at a stoplight on a hill? The new friends who also had bikes. Perhaps, what death-defying incident made him/her give it all up?

Can you write it from either spouse’s perspective? The shop owner’s? The salesperson’s?

There’s enough there to create a hundred tantalizing tales, if you keep the stories moving.

Tip #3: The Hardest Parts of Riding & Writing

Any literate being with a pencil and paper can write a story after he or she has begun moving along at a decent pace. Yes, anyone.

Going fast and straight is simple, whether you’re on a motorcycle or snow/water skis or putting a story into words. The hard parts come when you have to make turns, when you need to slow down, avoid obstacles or actually stop.

Think of the word: transitions.

My background includes working on-air at a half-dozen radio stations. Back in the 70s the goal at one album-oriented rock (AOR) station was to segue from one song to another with such fluidity that listeners could not tell when one ended and the next began.

Good writing is like that … seamless transitions from scene to scene and character to character. Is it too radical to say that the best parts of books, plays or movies are the plot twists and revelations about characters and circumstances?

Sorry, but there are times when you’re riding a motorcycle on a highway – just zipping along for hours – and it becomes boring. You want to find “the twisties” and wiggle a bit.

Readers share that emotion. Great, your characters are all fine and dandy … all is well and life is peachy. Blam! Down goes the book. You’ve lost your reader.

I used to co-author children’s radio dramas with an accomplished award-winning author of 50 or so books. We’d get our proposed stories approved – after having even better ideas shot down by our employer. Then I’d write most of the dialogue with the perfect amount of twists, pithy insights, impeccable character development and fancy antics.

My co-author proceeded to destroy everything by inserting earthquakes, floods, pestilence … the surprise entrance of the mystical mentor … and far too many tragedies until the story was perfect … for kids.

Then, he did what every writer and motorcyclist must do, eventually. He navigated to a graceful, logical, safe stop when the destination was reached.

Tip #4: All Good Things Must Come to an End

This particular blog post came to mind weeks ago. Ever since then, I have mentally masticated and contemplated what I’d write to you, but it took a looming deadline to get started.

It’s taken me hours to write, proof, rewrite and polish. My work is almost at an end.

All valuable communication has a beginning, a middle and an end. Be sure all three phases are discernable in your work.

As an author, you choose where and when to end your story. Live it up! (We don’t have much control in life. That’s why we write.)

At some point, you must conclude your message. Will all the “loose ends” be tied up magnificently? Probably not, but you have to stop somewhere. Most of the time, ending is a process because you can go back and tweak your work over and over.

When you finally have it right … when you’ve reached your destination.  

Stop.