My First Few Weeks as a Writer

I quit my job on a Friday, and started writing the next Monday. I woke up, showered, and went about my morning routine just as I had for the past few years. I sent the kids off to school, kissed Jody, and headed up to my home office.

I had spent much of the weekend cleaning and redecorating it, including, I'm embarrassed to admit, moving my desk back and forth between the two windows as I tried to figure out which view would provide inspiration without being distracting (so silly). I loved, and still love, how empty the small room felt without the gigantic flat panel monitors and suitcase-sized laptop computer from work.

I sat down, opened my laptop, and launched iA Writer. Even at that moment, I still had virtually no idea what I was going to write. I did have a couple of basic ideas and my loosely-defined plan was to try writing a short story for each, and then see which felt most like a potentially interesting novel. So, I started typing.

The first story was about a woman, a mother, who returns to her small hometown in South Dakota after hearing on the news that a man from her past has been murdered on the Indian reservation next to where she grew up. I was inspired to write it on one of my trips out there to pheasant hunt because rural SD strikes me as very desolate, and when I see young people there I can't help but wonder what it would be like to grow up in a place like that. The draft of the story was very short, only around six thousand words, and by the time I was done I did not feel inspired to turn it in to a novel. There may be another story to be told in that setting, but it wasn't what I pounded out that morning. I took the rest of the day off to go golfing.

The next morning I was back at it. This time I wrote a short synopsis about a small group of scientists at an outpost in the middle of some jungle. They receive a distress call from Outpost Echo, which is located deeper in the jungle than they are. Even though the call for help is quickly amended to be a false alarm, the communication is suspicious and the group decides to head out into the night to check on the Echo team in person. When they get there everyone is gone, and they fear that the invasion they're supposed to be looking out for has begun, but they're not 100% sure and, if they're wrong, sounding the alarm will start an unnecessary war. It was sci-fi, and I got kind of excited thinking about it. Who was invading what? Where are they? Why can't they tell what happened? But, I also found it almost impossible to not picture characters for Lost running around on The Island, and was afraid that the whole "what the hell is going on around here" theme would seem too derivative. I may get back to that one though.

I ran some errands that afternoon and, while listening to my "Greg Brown" station on Pandora, I heard "Billy from the Hills", by Greg Brown, and then "Our Mother the Mountain", by Townes Van Zandt. They played one right after the other and the idea of writing about a guy who retreats to the woods to become a mountain man, and who maybe goes a little crazy out there, was added to the short list I'd been keeping in my head. By the time I got home that afternoon, I was pretty excited about the idea and I started on it the next morning.

I tried out a couple of other ideas over the next couple of weeks, but kept coming back to the mountain man. I still have no idea why it felt like the thing to write, I could tell it wouldn't be the easiest, and may not even be the most interesting, of my ideas. But soon it was all that I worked on, and will be the first novel I finish.

If only I could finally wrap up editing...