Monday, June 14, 2010

A Writer's Sanctuary

by Ben Small

I write in a different manner than most writers I know. I like to mull a plot over, scribble a few notes, know in my head where I want this book to go and how I want to get there. But I don't write much at home, not counting blogging, FB, emails and other routine stuff. I store my notes, my research and my story for my yearly visit to my Wisconsin lake cabin.

And there I work like a banshee.

I'm there now, on the east bank of Lake Waubesa, just three miles south of Madison. And I'm cranking out page after page, fifteen today, so far, seventeen two days ago, editing in between. I'll get most of Vendetta drafted here, and then edit after the long drive home.

Just my style. Have no idea why. Maybe it's the often cool summer breezes, the occasional gale force winds, the popping of the bass or carp as they break the surface when they sense a predator. Maybe it's the quiet, when the wind isn't howling. Fishermen don't make much noise, you know, except when they fire up their engines. But close to shore, most of them use the silent motors, the ones that buck the tides which push them toward shore.

Yes, it's quiet and beautiful here. We're on a dead-end, and across the street is a watershed connected to the lake, a place where the large fish spawn. Some days, one can walk the quarter mile to the end of our street, and cross a small bridge over a narrow channel. Enormous fresh water fish pass through this channel, mostly early in the morning, a part of the day I don't usually see.

That's another thing about the lake. There's no phone, and I didn't buy a digital converter, so the television doesn't work -- two fewer distractions. For some reason, I can't avoid these appliances at home. Just when I'm at the cottage.

I wrote Alibi On Ice here, edited most of The Olive Horseshoe here, and while I was lawyering, I'd often sneak away to write important memos or other documents here.

I've owned this place for twenty-five years. Good and bad things have happened here. The place carries with it so many memories. And maybe that's why I love writing here so much. I get lost in myself and in my characters and their story. I bring those emotions from the past and insert them into my characters.

No, I'm not saying any of my characters are me. Perish the thought. Rather, that I tune myself up here, inject myself with the memories, and then project some of the emotions I felt at various times into my characters.

Most writers I know work on schedules, often rigorous schedules. Like Stephen King, for instance. In On Writing, King says he writes from the early morning every day until about Noon, then handles other business in the afternoon, and reads at night, although from reading his columns in Entertainment Weekly, I think King watches a lot of television and movies, too.

But I hate schedules. Can't stand them. Too many years of having to track my hours for billing purposes -- hour by hour -- and too much time-management, so everything got scheduled and done.

Likewise, I've learned I do my best work at weird hours. My boss used to laugh at receiving emails or work product from me at 3 A. M. And I can't help this. It's partly inherited, partly learned behavior on my part. My parents had insomnia, so do my sons. And I trained myself during college and law school to stay up all night studying and schedule late classes. And then when I'd start a trial, I'd stay up all night the night before it began, just going over my notes and making sure I had all the variables I expected covered. And during my company in-house lawyer period, I'd stay up all night working on important presentations or projects.

Old habits die hard.

So yes, I'm weird. But I like writing this way, and I love writing at the cottage, all eight hundred square feet of it.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Sounds like a good place to write -- or stage a murder. Have fun, Ben.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Whatever works, Ben. :)