Walking inspires my writing. It’s great for clearing my head after a day of crunching numbers. But there is one thing that works better than anything else. Driving in my car.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by that view just over the dashboard? Driving home over the Sanibel Causeway the idea for my third novel began to coalesce. I have a vague idea of what I want to write about, how I want to structure the novel, but the characters weren’t speaking to me yet. Headed east across Alligator Alley, they started talking. Yes, writers are a little crazy. We have imaginary friends.
I’ve taken some notes for the next book but I haven’t started writing. Stepping up to the plate and opening that blank page to actually begin, not always at the beginning. Those first pages you write are not necessarily the beginning. Take Me Home began with Josie and Tim, the Kiwi she met at a motel in Idaho.
She found a room at a motel right off the main drag but far enough back from the road that it was quiet, with a view of the river. Rocking chairs lined the long porch where she sat answering emails on her laptop. The door to the room next to hers squeaked open, the motorcyclist from the falls emerged. “Good evening,” he said. “Beautiful country, isn’t it?”
It really is beautiful country. Traveling in a car the road opens to one inspiring vista after another. The part of Idaho I was visiting is always shadowed by the Tetons just across the border in Wyoming.
After an hour and a half of exhilarating biking, they pulled over beside a meadow. From a small compartment on the back of his bike, Tim pulled out a bottle of wine, two plastic glasses, crackers, cheese and smoked trout. Shaking out a tightly rolled blanket, he placed it underneath a nearby shade tree. “What a day to be alive,” Josie said.
I’ve been working a lot, not at writing. It’s bookkeeping that fills my days, Monday through Thursday. They’re no longer always an eight hour day but once you get into that number crunching mindset it’s hard to shift gears. That’s where the walk helps. To use an expression I hate, it allows you to put on a different hat. Sophie in The Reverse Commute really hated that expression. At a meeting about new tax codes, her boss told her:
“I realize this is going to involve a lot more work for the both of you and it will be tricky at first. We are all going to have to put on our tax hats and learn these new procedures, but we’re good at that. We wear a lot of hats here in accounting.”
Ducking into her co-worker’s cubicle after the meeting, Sophie had a different opinion about the hats an accountant wears.
“I hate when she starts talking about the hats. Like it’s all so interesting and different when it’s all just the same shitty hat.”
Her co-worker is more blase.
Dan chuckled. “Hey, check this out.” He turned his computer screen towards Sophie and showed her a YouTube video of a woman paddling on a surfboard towards some kayakers. A whale came out of the water and filled the screen. Sophie jumped. “Holy shit.” They both laughed. Dan said, “Can you believe she didn’t fall off?”
Lately, my spare time has been filled with marketing. I need to sell more books in order to never wear the accounting hat again. When I moved to Florida, I thought I could hide out under the shade of a palm tree and spend my days writing, but the bills followed as they always do. Luckily, a new and very dear friend of mine that I met through my writing has taken me under her wing and is advising me on the art of selling. As she puts it, she is using mind control to move me from cubicle girl to rich author. Or at the very least, an author who can pay the bills with her writing.
However, it’s not just all this time bookkeeping and selling that is distracting me from starting the next novel. I am having a hard time saying goodbye to the Tetons. I am having a very hard time saying goodbye to Josie and Andy. I kind of fell in love with them. Now I know that sounds slightly crazy, but a reader just contacted me and wrote just that: “I loved Josie.” She’s not the first reader to tell me this.
A short time later, she turned north towards Jackson and the Grand Tetons, the coffee re-energizing her. Pleasantly surprised to find good radio out in the middle of the lonely planet, she sang along to the music. Tom Petty, Dave Matthews and the Lumineers helped pass the time. Just before dark, after passing through red rocks reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, the landscape turned from brown to green. The beauty of the majestic mountains lifted her spirits. The West seemed full of possibilities.
Monday morning dawned and while driving to work I started writing at red lights. This is something I do alot. Inspiration finds me early in the morning during that time between sleep and waking. Thoughts swirl around in my head, scenes come to me. I always see my books as scenes in a movie. If I don’t have to work that day, I sit down at the computer with my coffee and turn those scenes into paragraphs or if I’m lucky, into an entire chapter. Later in the writing process, these scenes get reshuffled like a deck of cards. Josie meets Tim, the Kiwi, was the first scene I wrote for Take Me Home but that ended up in Part Two. I thought Tim would be a major character but that was before Josie and I met Andy and even Jacob, who plays a bigger role than Tim. Tim became a character actor in the tale. Like the sun setting behind us on the drive home from Sanibel, the story set off in a different direction.
On mornings I have to go to my bookkeeeping job not my writing job, I quickly jot down notes in a journal I keep by my bedside, along with my two books of inspiration, my Kindle, water bottles that seem to multiply like rabbits, earrings I took off the night before. I think I’ve mentioned this before, housework is not my forte.
Then I get in the car, turn on the radio and things really start to click. Now not only do I have a scene, I have a soundtrack. I reach for my purse, rummage around for a pen, grab one of the dozens of receipts I stick in my wallet, all while keeping my eyes on the road.
Already running late, I nonetheless look forward to the red lights where I can stop and write a quick thought on the back of yesterday’s Publix receipt. “Thinking about leaving tomorrow. Getting out of town.” At the next light I only have time for this, on the back of a Mellow Mushroom receipt for one large mushroom and arugula pizza and two beers: “He unpacked her suitcase.= Ending.”
I know. It’s cryptic. But I understand what it means. It’s the start of something.
I’ve always loved this song by My Morning Jacket. I just discovered the video and it blew me away. It captures the magic and alchemy of a road trip.