Writing….a process filled with so many questions needing to be answered, problems to be solved. One of the most frustrating things about the creative process can be the uncertainty, questions, puzzles, doubts, unresolved issues…which result in much banging of the head against a wall. On the flip side of that same coin are the most joyful parts of the creative process; those lightning flashes of insight and inspiration…the AHA moments that flood in, in random places, at random moments.
It’s hard to forget them when they happen…I had several memorable occasions of these during the 7-year course of making my second book, HOME IN THE WOODS.
One of my first big challenges in trying to write this story was that I found myself unable to figure out what to focus the story around. It was based on the stories I heard from my grandma and her siblings of their childhood; the years they spent living in an abandoned tar-paper shack in the middle of the woods. With so many story fragments and memories of that experience, I had a hard time figuring out what the connective thread was. What’s tying this story together? What’s at the heart of it all?
I followed the characters around their world and their routines. At first I took their story into adulthood, then I tried including more of a wider historical context. I had scenes of them at school, in town, interacting with other migrating folks. At one point I tried the story from the point of view of the animals in the forest. Then from the point of view of a teapot. It was all sounding pretty bad.
I often had to put the book on the shelf and spend months at a time away from it. I wondered if I would crack the story, and wondered if it was do-able. During this writing process I felt like one of those restless dogs; circling and shifting around a spot to try to get comfortable.
One night…on May 5, 2013…I was having a hard time falling asleep, so I slipped on my headphones and began listening to NPR’s ‘First Listen’, a program that features a full-length preview of a newly released album. The album that day was a beautiful soulful album by guitarist Glenn Jones called “My Garden State”.
As I laid in bed, awake in the dark, this track came on that started simply with rainfall,
and then the rumble of thunder,
the patter of rain on a windowpane,
and the s-l-o-w strumming of guitar strings.
It was quiet. It felt like what I was hearing was in the present of some lost past…
It transported me to the time and place of my story, in 1932, there with my great-grandmother and eight kids in the tar-paper shack. I could see the trees, hear the rain on the tin roof, and feel the air of the northern Wisconsin woods. And I suddenly knew.
I stumbled out of bed in the dark and scribbled this note…
At the heart of this story is the shack. Everything is centered in it, and around it, and the characters can come and go, but they always return to this place. That was the first big missing piece that I need to set the story on it’s right course. Thanks to that sleepless night, headphones, NPR, Glenn Jones, his great art, the gift of that AHA moment…
[Hear a preview of the song Alcouer Gardens here, and buy it here]
There were many more pieces of the puzzle to fall into place, and I’ll come back and share about more of those here soon. For now, I wish you some restful time to set those pieces of your project down, let them simmer, and allow a big enough space to open and let the answers seep in.