Driving a stick shift and indie publishing

Recently, when I started thinking about this author journey I have embarked on, and where I am now, memories of my dad teaching me to drive kept popping up. What do memories of me learning to drive and being an indie author have in common?

At first, I thought nothing. That they were just random memories.

But the more I dwelled on it, the more I realized that experience taught me way more than just how to operate a vehicle. You see, my father decided that not only was I going to learn how to drive, but I was going to learn how to drive AND to drive a stick shift, all at the same time.

Yeah, that’s right. Those of you who learned to drive an automatic vehicle first, you suck. Because, let me tell you, I have very few memories left of my childhood and teenage years. Really, I have very few memories, at all. It is quite unpleasant, actually. Especially when someone is trying to reminisce with me, and I have to admit I don’t recall any of it.

But learning to drive a stick shift, yeah, I still have some of those memories. They are burned into my brain, I believe, forever.

Moments like me forgetting that I was supposed to be paying attention to the road, because I was paying attention to the clutch and shifting, and almost running off said road. (I can still hear my Dad yelling at me to get back on the road.) The sudden stops and starts. The grinding of the gears, and Dad’s voice saying, “I think you left the transmission back there.”

There was that time I stalled out in the middle of a backroad intersection, blocking another car, and had a full-on meltdown. I still remember the people in the other car laughing as my Dad switched me places, so he could move the truck out of the middle of the intersection. And the time I stalled out in the middle of the road. I don’t even remember why, just that I did. I remember watching the RPM gauge to see when I should shift. Learning how to pop the clutch to start the truck.

And then there was the final test he put me through, which I’ll get to later.

When I think of how many times I’ve stopped and started on this ride, those memories of—some painful, some great because I was with my dad—always surface. The times I thought I had this author thing down, then shifted wrong and stalled out. If I had gears, you would have heard a whole lot of grinding over the last six years.

The lesson though that keeps coming back around is that often during those driving lessons, I was so focused on all the little things, I forgot to focus on the reason I was there in the first place.

I started this author journey because I love to write. I always have. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Yes, I mostly love to write when the mood strikes and learning to force myself to finish has been a challenge. But deep down, writing is a part of me. It’s a part of my soul.

When I decided to start publishing, I lost sight of that. To the point, it was hard for me to write at all. The fact is, I publish to make money. For some reason, I feel like it’s bad to say that, but why else would someone start a business? I don’t expect to get rich but do want to at least break even. And yes, one day, I’d like to be a full-time author. Whether that ever happens or not remains to be seen. If it doesn’t happen, I may stop publishing one day, but I know I’ll never stop writing.

But what I realized was that while I was learning to operate a vehicle (publish), I was focusing only on making the gearshift work (ad creation, ad delivery, covers, blurbs, inside matter, KDP publishing, audiobooks, publishing wide, story structure, genres, keywords, write to market, Facebook, Instagram, Bookbub, TikTok, website creation, blogging, author pics, logos, branding, editing), and I completely forgot to focus on driving (writing).

In my quest to be a published author, I forgot about the whole reason I was here in the first place and that was because I love to write. And just like if I’d learned to operate a stick shift but didn’t pay attention to actually driving on the road, operating a stick shift wouldn’t do me much good.

So, I’ve sputtered and stalled so many times I’ve lost count. And despite knowing a whole lot more about publishing than I did, I unfortunately can’t really put it to use, yet, because I haven’t written enough.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, publishing four books is an accomplishment.

But I have more than that in me. I know I do. Despite the curveballs life throws at me, I can write more than three books in six years. (Finding Evelyn was written over a 10+ year period for fun, so I don’t count it.) My full flash drives of partially finished stories tell me I do. 

So, this brings me to my Dad’s final test.

Before he would let me take the driver’s exam, he took me to a gravel road with a fairly steep hill on it. He made me stop halfway up the hill and then said, “When you can start up this hill without spinning your tires, you can take your test.”

Someone out there has to understand what type of challenge that was. He made me start and when the tires spun, made me stop and do it again. And eventually, I did it! I was so excited. I was so proud of myself.

I just knew I was going to pass the driver’s exam.

I just knew it.

Except…I didn’t.

Nope, I failed. I got nervous at a stop sign and made too many creep and stops when a car was coming and got dinged every time I did it.

But that taught me something, as well. That taught me that no matter how much I prepare, something unexpected can happen, and you can still fail. That failure didn’t stop me though. Eventually, I did pass my test and got my driver’s license.

Those moments with my Dad still have a strong place in my memory even though it was now more than 30 years ago. I don’t have him here anymore to hop out and take over when I have a breakdown, but that’s okay. Because anytime he did that, he always made sure I got back behind the wheel and tried again.

So, here I am.


Knowing I’ve said it before, I’m ready now. That I’m prepared to do this thing.

Knowing I might fail, again.

But knowing, when I sputter out and the engine dies, I’ll just start it back up and take another crack at it. Knowing that when the tires spin, I’ll just try again. Knowing that if I ultimately fail the test, it doesn’t mean I failed for good. 

And knowing, no matter what happens, the lessons I’ve learned on this journey will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Because while it’s been a while since I’ve driven a stick shift, I know without a doubt if I got behind the wheel of one right now, I’d figure it out.

Because the greatest lesson I received from that time was the ability to just keep going until I get it right. And for that, Dad, I am grateful.


About Michelle Leigh Miller

Michelle is a women's fiction and sweet romance author.

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