The Myth of Writing in a Cabin in the Woods

Jonny Depp from Secret Window

It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Granted, my cabin was also full of other teachers and the whole place is surrounded by sixth graders. However, I do have certain conveniences you wouldn’t associate with cabin life: a constant stream of hot coffee, blistering hot showers, and wifi. So writing up a whole new novel should be a snap, right? Not so much.

I find that I’m a solitary person. I like to write alone. Blog posts and the like, sure, I can do that anywhere. Writing on a fiction manuscript, for that I need total concentration. It’s true, there were bits and times where I was completely alone in the cabin, and I could have worked it in. Yet those times were never reliable. What I mean is, you never know when a colleague will wander in and want to talk.

Add to this the lack of any kind of desk or table. Not too bad if you’re typing out a 250 word blog post. But if you intend on crunching 1000 or 2000 words, you’ll find that neck cramps ensue. Trust me, I know. I got them midweek just working on curriculum.

Finally, there’s the lack of structure. Sure I need to show up at meals and there’s a recess block to oversee, but between those my time is mine. Yay, more time equals more writing. Try it sometime. I think you’ll find it’s the opposite. At home, I can carve out one or maybe two hours a day. Always at the same time. Reliable. Both before and after are filled with things to do. It makes my writing charged because I know if I don’t get it done, then I’ll have to wait another day.

This is not to say I got nothing done. Since I could tell that formal words-on-page style writing was going to be a challenge, I tackled things that I typically have a hard time doing at home. Plotting. I plotted out the whole dang novel. Start to finish. Not every scene, but the milestones. Seeing it as a whole allowed me to fix some plot problems. One particularly pesky one dogged me for a while. I stepped into the cabin shower for forty minutes and worked out the solution in my head (without having to pay for the water bill).

So the next time you dream of being alone in a cabin in the woods, think again. It’s not the best environment for writing. Try writing every day. Repeat until the novel is complete.

Tim Kane

Lost in Place

My wife has grown used to this by now. Every once in a while I get so involved in a project that I disappear into myself. While driving, my mind is plotting out scenes. While making dinner, I’m pricing together dialogue. And every free second, I’m delving into books or the Internet for research.

Do all writers do this? Does you need the poetic bent or does it happen to non-fiction scribblers too? It’s a bit like. Fugue state, except instead of forgetting my life and leaving home, I travel inward, totally enveloped by the story world.

Typically I emerge from this story coma with fresh insights. If I have a chance to write, I can easily wrack up thousands of words a day. (It helps if I have a deadline looming.)

Sometimes I’ll plan for this. For example, if I have difficult section to work out in a chapter, I’ll review it and then take a shower or go for a drive. These menial tasks let my mind wander. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve scribbled frantically while still wet from the shower. The worst part is that I don’t have my glasses as they steam up.

I also inhabit parking lots, scratching words onto whatever paper I can find: receipts, envelopes, those flyers they leave under windshields. Sometimes I have to set a timer or I’ll spend the next hour just writing in a parking space.

Tell me if you have any similar situations. Do you ever get lost in one place, your mind dropping off the planet?

Tim Kane