Some writers write from the seat of their pants, others are plotters. This guy is a ‘pantser’
My buddy said I could stay in his landlocked cabin to work on my story. I needed to do something. I was stalled. Uninspired. And I had heard that great writers, like hermits of old, would have private, isolated spaces within which to focus their creativity. It was worth a try.
So, I drove the half-hour out of town to a barely discernible pull-off between a crop of soybeans and a cornfield. I grabbed my laptop and a bag of bagels, peanut butter and coffee and began the half-mile slog around gnarled oak trees, through knee-high weeds and over a board-walked bog to Frank’s place.
I stopped to admire it for a moment. Four-square, gray cedar siding and a window in the middle of each wall. No shades or blinds. You could see through the building from all sides. Privacy came with the location. Wood peckers, searching for bugs, had left holes in the facing boards along the overhang. Otherwise it looked untouched. As I knelt for the key hidden under the steps, I held my breath to absorb the profound silence broken only by a soft breeze ruffling pine needles in the nearby grove.
Inside, a shelf along one wall held a hotpot, electric skillet and a gallon of water—enough for breakfast and lunch. I would breakout for supper at a nearby diner, returning before dark. A sleeping bag on a futon held the promise of a delicious nap later on and an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
I got out my laptop. Plugged it in. No WIFI of course. But then, that’s exactly what I was trying to do—strip myself of all distraction so I could concentrate on my story. I opened my current project—working title: Time to Run—where I left off at page 65 and waited for my imagination to thrum; for my fingers to blur in paroxysms of word play. Nothing. More nothing.
I made coffee. Stood on the porch. Relieved myself playing rude little boy breaking the rules. Or was it throw-back caveman, at one with nature, marking territory. I kept waiting for a phone call or a text or an email. Something. Anything to shift focus so I could approach my tale obliquely, not head on. I was used to plotting and planning under the tedium of my Fed Ex route or, upon awakening, half-dreaming around what-if and maybe. It was so easy then. But to suddenly face the tabula rasa of a tablet screen felt too heavy. Like a comedian used to wise-cracking and getting a dinner party giggling and laughing but now standing on stage, facing a sea of silent expectant faces…‘Go ahead. Make us laugh.’ Whose idea was this? Who can write in a total vacuum. I don’t know about others but I’m able to start and stop at will. Keep a storyline working, re-word a sentence or fumble for the exact word in the middle of traffic or in the middle of squalling kids or pundits blathering. It’s a subconscious thing until it’s time to make it conscious at the keyboard.
I need to be moving, working the story while I’m working. It’s about misdirection. I flash to the scene in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where the Kid is asked to prove his prowess with a gun by shooting at a coin. He misses until he asks if he can move while he shoots and then the coin bounces and dances while he jukes and slides. Am I a basketball player who can score off the dribble with reflex moves but can’t make a free throw standing still? This quiet place is making my writer’s block worse not better.
So, I walk…or better…plow through the unimproved terrain of fallen branches and leaf covered forest floor and buggy swamps and clutching briar patches. That’s when the creative wheels start turning. I’m suddenly thinking of my detective whom I left in the hospital locked in place with tubes and stitches and casts. I know the feeling. He can’t move, so he can’t detect. How can he expect to solve a crime if he can’t work the bars, the street contacts, to shuck and jive to poke and prod at leads and clues?
Get him out of the hospital. That’s what I got to do. Get him multi-tasking. In his element. That much at least. So, right now, I need to get back to my keyboard and get stroking. Only I’m lost. I’m down in a ravine. I climb to the rim. Can’t see the cabin, nor the cornfield. Just trees and rotted logs on the leaf-carpeted floor of the forest and ferns and briar patches and the glint of a stagnant water pond off on the right. Now that I got my story going again, I need to get back, to get it down before it gets away from me.
I trip on a hidden branch, land with my nose next to a trillium. My knee is twisted and sore. I watch a chipmunk run across a hollow log. A swallow swoops and swipes a beak-full from the pond. A cool breeze joins the cloud-shadow sweeping the woods. Rain is coming. I grab a stick. Gimp along in a strange place. My character feels vulnerable. Doesn’t know where he is. How did he end up here? Will they come after him again now that he’s helpless?
I’ve got the story staggering along, again. Now I just need to get to the cabin to pin it down. Who knows where it goes from here or how it will end? Maybe it will come to me as I struggle up that steep hillside up ahead. Thinking in motion. Sitting still and quiet is only for typing and editing. Story comes in motion.