Adventures in writing

I tried another little writing experiment recently. Over the recent three-day weekend, my wife and I left the big city and stayed at our little cabin in the woods. No electricity. No running water. No internet.* No interruptions. The weather was mild (so the swimming was brisk), but it’s late enough in the year for the bugs to no longer be a problem.** We had chores to complete around the place, or not to complete as we wished. We hiked, we swam in the lake, we fished, we played with the dogs, we had several campfires, we sat for long hours of conversation and contemplation in comfortable chairs under a warm sun and a million stars. And I tried to do a little writing.

I write almost exclusively on my laptop. I will make notes with pencil and paper as they occur to me, and I write in my paper journal by hand, but the creative writing I do is at a keyboard with a glowing monitor. And that can be a problem when you’re off the grid. The battery in my laptop generally lasts about three continuous hours, though we had brought along a large battery pack (powerful enough to jump start a car engine) that would effectively let me run the laptop the entire three-day weekend. So I had the mechanics of the matter mastered. (Indeed, being without a wireless connection meant one huge distraction was also gone.)

The experiment, however, did not deal with any of that. Rather, I wanted to see if I could concentrate in a place where I normally want to wander, both mentally and physically. There is a lot happening in a forest. Bird call is almost constant. We can often hear cattle lowing and dogs barking from a nearby farm. Wildlife visits the lake, and though they are less likely to do so while we are there, we are always excited when we do see some visiting goose or heron or deer or turkey, so we keep an eye pointed at the lake most of the time. I hear small feet creeping through the leaf litter or a fly buzzing against the screen of the cabin window. I watch the sunlight as it moves across the floor, eager to see just how much light the cabin will get at different seasons. My mind wanders to distant parts of our 80 acres, planning projects there or simply wondering what’s changed since I last visited. More trees need clearing around the cabin. Deadfall needs to be cut to pieces and then burned. I think of all of the things I must remember when I return to civilization so that our next trip to the cabin will be comfortable and enriching. I wonder how all of the trees and bushes I have planted here and there over the years are doing. And so it goes. All of this is buzzing through my head when I’m in our woods, and it wouldn’t seem to allow room for entering that alternate space for creative work. Thus the experiment. Could I make my forest cabin into my creative writing workshop?

I began early in the morning on the second day. I rose when I woke, which was before the sun was up, and I sat at the small table before my computer to see if I could take myself outside of the actual world around me and into the imagined world I wanted to put on the page. My normal process for this first involves transcribing notes I’ve made in recent days. I’ve mentioned here that the files I keep for notes are sometimes the size of short novels themselves. By typing my handwritten notes into these files, I get myself into that creative space more easily. By the time I have the note work done, I’m usually ready to try the fiction work.

As I said, I was working before dawn, so only the incessant tree frog chorus outside the window competed for my attention. I was able to tune that out, and I soon found that I was deep in my imagined world, watching events transpire even as I was dreaming them up. It was working. I could write in my cabin.

A couple of hours passed quickly, and while I don’t think I put down as many words then as I might have in two hours at the dining table back home, I made respectable progress. It was progress that continued long after the sun had risen and the dawn chorus of birds began. Sure, there was wood to cut and fish to catch and oatmeal to make, but I found that I wanted to stay in my imagined world for as long as I could. That was the sign I was looking for; I could achieve and sustain that creative mental state in a place that normally pulls me in a thousand directions. I’m grateful for this. It means that I have a writing retreat, one that I need to sneak off too as often as I can.

*Once again, I see no reason why the word “internet” ought to be capitalized.
** That’s right! I split an infinitive!

Explore posts in the same categories: Humble efforts

3 Comments on “Adventures in writing”

  1. Paul Says:

    Brian, it truly is. Next time you’re in the middle of the United States, I’ll take you down there.

  2. Brian Keaney Says:

    Thanks, Paul. I’ve never actually been to the US but who Knows?

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