You don’t need me to tell you that life is busy these days, no matter what you do for a living. Hell, there are shelves of self-help books out there that purport to help us take care of all this busy-ness, from helping with time management to arranging your kids’ lives so they don’t interfere with the pursuit of the almighty dollar. (Okay, I don’t know if they have one like that last one, but it wouldn’t surprised me.) Heck, I’ve been unemployed for almost three years and I sometimes wonder how I managed to work eight hours a day (that’s not true, I know the answer to that question).
So, for some of us, when deer season comes around, it means it’s time to meditate. And if you’re a writer, it’s like bonus time.
I’m not gonna get into the moral argument about hunting. I’m a hunter, I see no problem with it, this is my blog, so that’s the end of that discussion (at least for this post; I might entertain a debate about hunting on some future post). Whether you agree with hunting or not, let me enlighten you on one aspect of it: in a sense, it’s boring.
For about the first two hours of every day you get to go, it’s awesome. You watch the birds fly around, listen to squirrels argue with one another, wish the crows and blue jays would shut the hell up so you could hear something, and just generally let go of the workaday blues and stresses. It’s a good way to relax. You’re out in nature, maybe leaning up against a tree, your gun lying across your legs or propped up beside you, and you don’t have to turn in some kind of daily report or make a presentation or get that damned PowerPoint done for the idiot that won’t learn how to do it himself.
All you gotta do is lean up against this tree and watch for a deer to walk by.
I think, sometimes, we don’t realize how tired we get in our daily jobs. I don’t know how many stories I’ve heard of hunters falling asleep at their deer stand. One guy I used to work with said he fell asleep and when he woke up there was a raccoon staring him in the face. Some of the stories hunters tell are downright amusing. Some weird stuff happens to you out there in the woods, and it makes for good water cooler talk when you get back to work.
For writers, it can be a very productive time. I’ve been taking a book with me most days, but I think I may stop that. Russell says he likes to take a notebook and do some writing. I may do a version of that, except that I think I’ll try to figure out some things about my Rural Empires setting. And, since I’m closing in on the end of Spree, maybe I need to give that some thought, too.
Sitting out there in the peaceful woods—well, except for them crows and blue jays, of course—frees your mind up, lets you get some creative thinking done. Hey, it’s that or let your mind wander over stuff that don’t matter much. There’s nothing much wrong with that, since it lets your mind get some much-needed rest, but why not go ahead and get some productivity while you’re there?
I don’t mean you need to plot your next novel. Do go at it hard, the way you would sitting at your keyboard. Approach it from a more creative level, sort of free association kind of thing. Focus on a concept, or a story idea, and then let your mind work through the variations on it without forcing it into any particular path. Who knows what you’ll come up with?
That’s where that notebook of Russell’s might come in real handy.
I know that, for me, it would be a good way to do things. I’ve worked out story ideas before, and had inspiration for other stories, too. For instance, the other day I was walking up the driveway on the way to the deer woods (I’m lucky in that I actually live right in the middle of my hunting grounds) when this small airplane flew over. Not exactly an unusual event—we happen to live in one of the approach paths for XNA, so we get planes of all sizes flying over all the time. I even hear the Life Flight helicopter going by fairly frequently.
But this plane was a private plane, one of those small Cessnas you see buzzing around so much. I don’t know them well enough to tell you what size, though I’d guess a 150 or 170—if they still make them that way. It’s been over twenty years since I worked at the airport. Anyway, I stopped and looked up at the plane for a moment. What caught my attention about it was that it was barely moving. I’d guess it was somebody working on their license. You hear that a lot out here in the country. I think the logic is that, if they crash, there’s a good chance they’ll miss a house since there aren’t many out here.
Anyway, I turned away to continue pulling the hill when this sentence came to me: I was headed out to my deer stand when I heard the plane go down.
Oh boy! A situation!
Why is the plane going down? What’s in it? Anything at all? Or is it just a trainer and his student out on a flight and something’s gone wrong with the plane. Maybe the trainer has enough experience to set it down without killing both of them, but there may still be injuries. If my guy can get there in time, maybe he can save a life or two.
That’s good motivation. But what happens if he’s a Ledbetter, a member of one of my crime families? And what happens if, when he gets there, he discovers the plane had a load of marijuana onboard? That’s the Ledbetter gross national product, man. They’re major pot dealers and distributors.
What does he do? Does he try to find out who the load belonged to? That’s an option, because whoever owned it might come looking for it. If the Ledbetters sell it off, there could be problems, especially if the load belonged to certain south-of-the-border investors. Self-preservation alone might dictate finding out whose product it is and returning it to them as a sign of good faith. And such an act might also lead to more lucrative business opportunities.
I filed the idea away for future consideration. What I just wrote out is actually more thought than I’ve given it since I had the initial idea. And it sounds intriguing. Might be my first Ledbetter novel in the Rural Empires setting. Hmm.
And I hadn’t even made it to the deer stand yet.
This is the kind of thing that could be very good for me, since I write seat-of-the-pants. I don’t plot, don’t set down and outline everything, so I could do a basic story idea while I was sitting out there in the woods. Relax and make good use of my time simultaneously. Whether I get a deer or not will be irrelevant, because I’ve laid the groundwork for a possible future story.
Or, alternatively, perhaps I can work out the details of how Spree ends. I always slow down on endings. I think that’s a safe assumption to make after five completed novels—Spree will make six. My options become more limited as I come to the end, just as my characters’ options narrow. That’s good, but it also means I gotta slow down and do it right. Endings are important. If we don’t do them right, readers won’t come back because they’ll feel cheated in some way.
I like to make sure there’s closure, and Spree is giving me fits in that regard. My protagonists are criminals, and you usually don’t see criminals get away with their crimes. My antagonists are cops, and they’re the ones who usually win out in the end.
But Spree is bass-ackwards. If I let the criminals get arrested, the reader will be disappointed because the main characters didn’t achieve their goal. But, you can’t let the cops totally lose. So, to solve that, one of my main characters is gonna die, and the cops will get to solve a case, just not this one. Maybe it ain’t perfect, but this is crime fiction, and my characters are criminals. I’ve got to let them win but do it in a way that doesn’t exactly glorify what they do. They have to win despite being criminals, not because they’re criminals.
So sitting out there watching for deer and letting my mind wander is a good way to solve these problems. And I don’t have to force anything. Just let myself consider all the possibilities to wrap it up right. As the story’s creator, my choices are, theoretically, unlimited. But, as I stated above, my options are actually very narrow. I can’t throw the convenient gun into the act at the last minute to save my main character. Readers won’t accept that, and all writers know that.
How about it? Wanna go sit in the deer woods and fix plot holes? You don’t have to take a gun. I wouldn’t dream of encouraging you to do that if you weren’t comfortable with it.
Go ahead and wear your blaze orange, though. There are deer hunters out there that shoot at a sound and worry about what made the noise when the smoke clears. I think your family would like to see you for the holidays, and that dopey hunter doesn’t need to go to jail…well, maybe he does, but I don’t think you need to get shot to get him there. He’ll do something dumb all on his own if he’s that kind of person.
And you’ll still be around to finish that novel you work out while you’re in the peace of the woods.