This past weekend I stayed in a very rustic cabin on Camano Island during a power outage caused by a wind storm. The power went out when I got there at 6pm on Friday, and it didn’t come on again until the morning on Sunday. My goal with going there was to work on my book, so the lack of electricity was amazing. I had brought my Jetboil, warm clothes, food, two sleeping bags, headlamp, and candles, so I had everything that I needed to survive without electricity.
On Saturday morning, as the high-tide set in, the water rose as the wind howled. About an hour close to high-tide, two rangers stopped by the let me know when high-tide was approaching. They wanted to check in on the “the storm chaser.” I laughed. Apparently I was the only person who had not gone to the community lodge where they had a fire and a generator going, so they were curious how I was doing. A storm chaser! The heat of the lodge would have been nice, but I was completely happy with my own private shelter. I told the rangers I just had reservations for this weekend. The storm was a coincidence. “I’m not a storm chaser. I’m working on my book,” I said. The older ranger smiled at me, and the other one told me to get my belongings off the floor, and that they might need to evacuate me in twenty minutes.
They left me be but I got dressed in my rain gear just in case I did have to evacuate, and I packed up my things that I’d be bummed to leave behind should a flood occur. I kept a close eye on the rising waters from the front window of the cabin. This island is protected by another island to the west, so I got the impression that the tide waters don’t usually rise that high. Several people got clapped by waves as they tried to get closer to the ocean.
Don’t turn your back on the sea. Indeed. I watched it all afternoon from my writing table. The spray washed on to my porch leaking water through the front door, but they had a little mop for me to use, and I felt like I was on board a small boat instead of a wooden 19030s era state park cabin. The wind didn’t stop for 34 hours. The gusts blew at the front door so hard I had to keep it locked so it would stay shut.
My plan had been to hike on Saturday when writing and reading words had become too much. Nope. I had wanted to check out the trails near my cabin, but the trees were blowing so hard. Occasionally you’d see big branches setting sail in the wind. The trees were like that clip at the beginning of Twin Peaks.
So lovely, this northwest. But I don’t like the wind. It’s been an exceptionally windy winter. Ready for that shit to end any day now.
I spent Saturday at my small table overlooking the tempest organizing and revising my book. It was such a gift. Just me. The only people I talked to were the rangers. And one dog that had escaped their owners. Magic.
For this post, I want to share a few things that helped me create a system of revision for the handful of readers who are writers themselves. Look at me! Instead of bitching about what I’m not doing, I’m going to share something that’s working. I’m always so surprised that anybody reads this bloggy much less follows these posts. Thank you.
Here’s what I did on that windy Saturday and frigid Sunday morning:
1] I read all of my printed chapters. I don’t print very often, but I was glad I had the analog version during the storm. Also, your cell phone flashlight rested on top of a lamp shade works quite swell to diffuse light. I slowly edited by hand. I had a limited battery on my laptop, and there was no way I was going up the lodge to power up my laptop. I used my Magic Machine very sparingly. The way you would have if the ink ribbon was dying on your typewriter. (I’m old).
2] Then I reread chapter by chapter, and I fixed all of my mistakes. Or all the ones I could see. I used my pen to hold the sentence line by line.
3] I then reread the digital pages looking for places where I could replace “that” or other repetitions and other horrid phrases that plague my writing. I tried to edit down for fewer words.
4] I looked at each chapter after this process and I answered the following questions:
- What is working?
- Where is the theme of this chapter?
- How can I summarize a needs of this chapter?
- How does this connect to my book?
I replaced all of the drafts with just the first pages of the essays/chapters. I used dividers in a three-ring notebook. I then made three piles of papers. One for recycling that was about three inches tall. One with pages of notes, scenes, and blatherings for another book that I’m not ready to write. And one for general notes about writing that I’ve kept since last spring.
Am I ready to summarize what the book is about? Do I have a blurb? No. Am I sure it’s a memoir or a collection of essays? Nope. Here’s what I can say. My overall project with this book is a love letter to Yellowstone National Park. I worked two summers as a park employee in 1992 and 1993, and it was the right job at the right time of my life. Those jobs changed everything for me. I also want to share how I became a backpacker, and why I love that sport so much. So I think there is story to tell. A history, of sorts, that I would want to read.
Here are the chapter titles that I have so far:
- What the Shoulders Can Bear
- On and Off the Trail
- The Kind of People Who Leave Dirt on the Floor
- Gear Lust
- The Great Eye Infection
- Rain is Not An Emergency
- A Tent of One’s Own
- True North
- Our Backpack, Ourselves
- Dear Young One
Each chapter connects to one of the Ten Essentials, but I’m not sure which chapter aligns with which. I’m hoping that framework will teach readers a bit of what I’ve learned over the years. Truthfully, I have written this book bit by bit over the years, and to finally have it all in one place feels amazing. Like I have a foundation to actually write this, finish it, and then I can start writing something else. I can’t really explain why this story feels this way to me. Why I can’t let it go. It’s like when people explain their remorse for “The One who got away.” Like love that didn’t work out that you think of from to time to time.
When I finished this process for all ten chapters, I reread a note from a reader about one of the chapters where I write a letter to my younger self (Dear Young One). The reader shared that I should do the same thing only I should write to my future self. Share words of wisdom with her, the reader said.
That doesn’t feel like an option to me because I don’t know who she is–this future self. What can I possibly say to her when I don’t know who she is? I tried to follow this advice and write something as a conclusion to this writing retreat in the blowzy wind.
My letter was one sentence.
I wrote you this book.