Writing Practice

She wiggled her toes inside of her boot, trying to relieve the small but growing pain where a wrinkle in her sock was rubbing oddly against her toe.  When that didn’t work, she bent down and adjusted her sock.  She caught a glimpse of the now-filthy hem of her loose nylon pants and sighed.

Adjusting her hat, she started hiking again.  Absentmindedly she rubbed the back of her neck, then frowned down at her hand and rubbed her fingers together. Her skin had the sticky, gritty feeling that was left when sweat captured dust from the air before drying.  She licked her lips and grimaced, tasting the sharp chemical bite of insect repellant.  After a sip of warm, stale water from her bottle, she sighed again and continued putting one foot in front of another.

Rounding the corner, the trailhead came into sight just as a breeze picked up.  Her nose crinkled as she caught a whiff of unwashed human; as the parking area was empty and she hadn’t seen anyone for the last few hours, she knew the acrid stink belonged to her.  Clearing the edge of the woods, she saw her car and picked up her pace.  Her stuff was already loaded, she’d finally found that stupid nuthatch, and it was more than time to head home.  At the end of three days of camping, she was craving nothing more than a hot shower.  She rubbed her forehead and then stared at the filth smeared across her palm.  It would need to be a long, hot shower, with an excessive amount of soap.

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A Camping Craving

About six months ago I took a solo jaunt into the woods for some camping, hiking, and writing.  It was amazing, and if you weren’t here for it, you can read about some of the adventures in previous posts, starting with this one.

It seems that I get camping cravings about every 6 months.  The newest one reared its head today.  I’m not sure what it is that I’m craving.  Is it the time in nature?  Is it sleeping outside?  Could it be the brief escape from life and people? (This last one seems especially likely at the moment, as most humans have been getting on my nerves lately.)

October may seem late to go camping, but remember that I live in Texas.  It’s 9:20 pm and the temperature outside is currently 75 degrees – it was 86 for most of the afternoon.  The weather will make its annual dramatic shift soon, though, so if I want to get my behind into the woods I’d better do it quickly.

Maybe camping will once again spark the writing?  I was almost prolific on my last trip!

Time Flies When You’re Moving Slowly

The first thing I did when I arrived on my retreat was to readjust my pace.  I decided that I would be “timeless,” meaning that I had no schedule, no limits on when to do something or how long to do it.  It turns out it takes a bit to adjust from a get-things-done routine to a nothing-but-the-moment routine.

In order to slow myself down, I took my camp chair, my binoculars, and my National Geographic to the edge of my campsite, where two trees provided some lovely shade in a spot overlooking the lake.  There I parked it, just sitting and reading and soaking in the view.  Surprisingly, it worked!

For the rest of the retreat I took my time and went slowly.  One morning I took an apple and a piece of bread (my breakfast) to the nearby fishing pier and just watched the little fish come up to eat bugs off the surface of the water.  I would sit and write, and suddenly two hours would have passed.  I hiked right through “lunchtime” one day, just letting the trails lead me, going from one to another, until I decided I was done hiking.

Walking was the one thing I couldn’t slow.  I kept trying to remind myself to “mosey,” just wander and soak it in, but when my feet started going my brain did, too, so my pace was close to my typical speed.  It didn’t matter in the end, though; the journey was the goal and the hiking loosened my creativity.

I really enjoyed the slow pace, as well as the lack of schedules and plans.  I don’t think I could keep it up indefinitely – towards the end I started getting a little antsy – but it was definitely what I needed right now.

A Truly Terrifying Thunderstorm

I have had three very scary encounters with weather, and all of them involved wind and rain.

The first occurred when I was camping in Big Bend National Park.  We were 5 miles up the mountain, having hiked all afternoon, and staying in a tiny tent.  Since we had walked in, we had brought only what we needed.  First it was incredibly windy, and after we had fallen asleep the storm blew in.  Rain pounded our little tent.  When my mind realized that I was trapped, since I couldn’t very well hike down the mountain in a downpour, I panicked.  On a mountain, in a tent, is not a very pleasant way to experience a night of pouring rain.

The second scary weather was Hurricane Ike.  I had moved to Houston just 3 months before the storm.  I’m sure I don’t need to explain the frightening aspects of a hurricane.  The hardest part was overnight.  The wind rattled the windows, the rain came down in sheets, and I tried (and mostly failed) to sleep with husband, dog, and parrot on the floor of our walk-in closet.

The second night of my writer’s retreat provided my third terrifying encounter with weather.  Again, this was a storm with wind and rain, and again, it occurred overnight.

As you know, I was entirely by myself on this retreat.  I was staying in a screened shelter, which is basically a stand-alone screened-in porch with half of the screens covered in wooden louvers.  While it was a bit more secure than a tent, it was still not a reassuring place to ride out a storm.

The lightning came first, flickering like a horror movie.  The sky was more light than dark for most of the night.  I called a friend to get a weather forecast (the radar was red and orange and heading my way) and I talked to my sister on the phone to help me calm down.  When the rain arrived, I thought I would be okay.  A little blew in through the screens at the front half, but none was reaching me.  I checked several times, but there were no leaks in the ceiling.  I felt like I could drift off, like my fears were silly.  I even started to draft a writing practice (in my head) based on the storm.

Of course, just as I started to fall asleep, the storm changed.  The wind picked up, blowing rain through the entire shelter.  At one point the ceiling was so wet that it, too, was dripping on me.  All I could do was huddle inside my sleeping bag and let it take the brunt of the water.  Thank goodness for my laptop case and the carrying bag for my sleeping bag; they sheltered my computer, the only major thing I was worried about getting wet.

After a bit, the wind settled.  Again, I started to fall asleep.  It lasted only a few moments before I was jolted awake by an incredibly loud, ground-shaking clap of thunder.  For about five minutes the lightning hit nearby, the thunder rattled my shelter, and I was sure that a tree was about to fall on my roof.  It was one of the few times I have been truly terrified.  Fortunately it passed, my stuff stayed (mostly) dry, and the next day I found the storm provided inspiration for the next chapter of Dragon Pendant.

After all of that, I’ve decided that thunderstorms at night are fine, but only if I’m inside something with four walls and windows that won’t break.

My First Writer’s Retreat, or what do you do in a state park?

I just got back from my first writer’s retreat.  I stayed in a screened shelter in Martin Dies, Jr. State Park.  It seems like a wilderness retreat, but to be fair, I had a roof, electricity, and a typical running-water restroom within easy walking distance.  There was no internet or television, but that was sort of the point, and I managed to survive without air conditioning.  I wouldn’t exactly call it roughing it.

When I went camping the last time, in October, my mom asked me what I do when I’m camping.  She couldn’t think of much to do in a state park, finally concluding that she would be happy to roast marshmallows over a campfire before getting bored and wanting to go home.  I’m the weirdo outdoors-girl in a family of indoor people, I’m afraid.

One of my friends asked a similar question, however, when he found out I was going camping for three nights.   He wanted to know if I was going to get bored.  Honestly, I was a little concerned about that myself, which is why I brought a magazine, two books, and my knitting as well as my computer for writing.

It turns out I found plenty to do while I was on my retreat.  I hiked and walked a lot; my best estimate is that I walked over 12 miles in the course of two and a half days.  I did a bit of birding, although if I couldn’t find the bird or didn’t know what a call was, I didn’t spend too much time on it.  I slept, not as much or as well as I was hoping, but I got to sleep in and nap.  I did knit some, and read some, although I finished the magazine the first day and then didn’t open a book until the last evening.  I relaxed, I rested, and I even did some personal reflection.

The bulk of my waking time, though, was spent writing.  Even while hiking I was working on stories and blog posts.  I finished With Honor on the first day.  I re-read the existing chapters of Dragon Pendant, so I could get back into the story, and ended up writing two and a half chapters plus three major upcoming scenes.  I finally resolved some plot troubles with that story, as well.  I wrote nine blog posts, including two Steps to a Story posts and this post that you’re reading.  Some of the posts I wrote were not related to writing, but rather journaling about experiences I had on while in nature.  I still plan to share them with you, as my experiences influenced the writing I did on the retreat.

With the exception of a few interesting moments (which you’ll get to read about in upcoming posts) it was a reinvigorating, relaxing experience that I hope to get to repeat in the future.

Breakfast with Woodpeckers

Hmm…  I thought I published a post yesterday about trying to decide if I should go camping.  My apologies, apparently I saved the draft instead of publishing it.

I did decided to go camping, blog post or no, and the dog and I just got back.  I’m glad I went (although a few times last night I regretted bringing the dog); I hiked about 4 miles total, enjoyed lovely cool sleeping weather, and had breakfast surrounded by trees full of woodpeckers.  (Woodpeckers are my favorite group of birds.  Since birds are my favorite group of animals, you can imagine how much I enjoyed the company).  Of course, I have returned a little sunburnt, a lot tired, and fairly stinky.  A shower is next on my to-do list.

The benefit of hiking, eating, and sleeping in nature alone (the dog doesn’t talk, so he doesn’t count) is the freedom for my brain to work on story-creating.  When I am stuck, a walk or hike usually helps me dislodge a few ideas.  I wasn’t stuck this weekend, but I did come back from my jaunt in the woods with a better picture of the next part of Burden.  In fact, it isn’t just a picture; I have the first several paragaphs bouncing around word-for-word in my head.

The next thing after shower on myto-do list is to write.