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Writing Lessons, Courtesy DMV

I just returned from the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (SCDMV). Reflecting on the experience while driving back, I realized that what has happened to SCDMV over the years offers valuable illustrations of what it takes to be a successful writer.

To fully appreciate what I’m saying, one must understand the backstory, realizing the change that took place in DMV over the years. Simply put, any dealings one had with DMV were once a nightmare. Such an experience today, however, is the exception rather than the rule.

When my wife and I relocated to the state 15 years ago, helpful friends and coworkers offered valuable advice on a variety of things we would have to do, many of them in a limited amount of time. Two of those tasks were getting new driver’s licenses and new license plates for our vehicles. That’s when our helpers shook their heads sadly and began a litany of horror stories of dealings with DMV.

To avoid such problems (we thought), we checked online to see what documents and information we needed to take with us when we went to DMV. It was straightforward and clear. What could go wrong? But just to make sure, we then double-checked that information by calling the local office itself. The information the clerk at DMV gave us differed from what was online. We began to suspect that we might be in for a little trouble.

When we went in person to the closest DMV office, we were told that we needed other documents than what we saw online. And some of the documents that the clerk we had called earlier said we needed weren’t on either list. Nonetheless, we obtained them all and went back, this time to the office closest to our work site.

No, they said, we didn’t need those other documents, but I had to have an eye exam, something that wasn’t stated online and that no earlier clerk had mentioned. And no, they weren’t giving them that day at that site. Back on another day, I took the exam and received my license, but my wife couldn’t get hers. She needed to show them our marriage license.

Marriage license?! No web site and no clerk had mentioned that as a requirement before. In 27 years of marriage (to that point), no one had ever asked to see our marriage license, and now, after 42 years of marriage, that’s the only time we’ve had to produce it. Another trip back. And each time we had to wait in small, overcrowded waiting areas for an hour or more. We could understand the horror stories we had been told, and now we could add our own rendition to the collection.

But that was before Nikki Haley became governor. One plank of Haley’s campaign platform was a pledge to straighten out the mess popularly called DMV. She kept that promise. Today, I waited about two minutes in line, barely finished filling out the form for license renewal when my number was called, and the clerk who dealt with me smiled and even laughed, none of which was ever seen in the old DMV. Thank you, Nikki Haley!

Less than 20 minutes after entering the doors, I was driving out, good for another seven years (assuming that the aging process still allows me to drive that long).

What made the difference? Haley researched the problems, discovered solutions, and then implemented them.

And what does all this teach me about my writing?

First, to do my research well. Study the subjects about which I’m going to write. Study the markets. Know the readers’ desires and expectations.

Second, get busy writing. Don’t procrastinate. Don’t lollygag around. Get serious enough about writing to get busy doing what gives me the right to call myself a writer–write!

Third, listen to constructive criticism. I recently sent a book manuscript to beta readers. Some have responded with their thoughts, criticisms, and suggestions for improvement. One offered six pages of single-spaced advice. I must swallow my pride, bite my tongue, weigh the suggestions, and then act upon them. And I need to do it with a smile, even if I’m tempted to think, from the brutal honesty and transparency of the feedback, that I’m an utter failure as a writer and should be locked in a padded cell for even daring to impersonate a real writer. I must realize that such feedback is tough love designed to help me improve my writing, thereby increasing my chances for getting that manuscript published.

I had expected to waste at least half a day of valuable writing time battling DMV. Instead, thanks to Haley’s reforms, I got home with two hours or more of time to devote to writing. And that’s with a stop at the local butcher shop to pick up hamburger for my wife. In fact, that

unexpected “found” time was just enough for me to get this post ready for my blog. Now I’ll have all afternoon to return to that article I’ve been commissioned to write for an educational journal.

How is your own writing progressing? Are you doing your research, seriously busying yourself with the various writing tasks, heeding constructive criticism? If so, you’re well on the way to your own DMV success story! Keep writing!

Finally, I want to thank all of you who liked, commented on, and/or chose to follow my blog last week. It was a great encouragement. I hope that you’ll continue to share the blog with others and encourage them to follow it, too!

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