07 July 2012

Home Alone


by John M. Floyd


A few weeks ago our family--my wife and I, our three children, and their spouses and children--spent a week in the mountains of east Tennessee.  Thirteen of us, five of whom are under the age of seven, lived together for six days in a four-story, six-bedroom cabin, and somehow managed to do it without any major arguments or threats to life and limb.  I can't say we were roughing it, because the place included a pool table, hot tub, Wi-Fi, and seven TV sets--but, to our credit, none of the TVs even got switched on, except for the night our oldest son plugged his camera into one of them to show us a movie he'd made of a kindergarten music-program featuring one of his kids.

Anyhow, we had a great time; the weather was cool and clear and totally unsummerlike for the whole trip.  Every day after breakfast, the Floyd clan hiked up and down mountains until two of us (guess who) were wheezing and had our tongues hanging out.  Lunch was always a picnic somewhere along the trail, and by five o'clock or so we were usually back at the cabin, where we had a group supper and got all the kiddos calmed down and in bed.  The eight grownups then sat around on the deck and snacked and propped up our sore feet and visited until the wee hours.

You guys go ahead--don't worry about me . . .

But my column today, believe it or not, isn't about road trips or backpacking or family reunions.  It's about writing.  Because on the first of those six days in the wild, I was recovering but still suffering from a head cold and chose to stay behind while the rest of the family packed up and trudged off into the black forest.  From eight o'clock until around four-thirty that day, I sat around by myself, taking it easy and occasionally taking in the view.  And writing.

I wrote for most of the day, and while I wish I could tell you I was writing a SleuthSayer column, I wasn't.  I was writing a short story--what used to be called a mini-mystery and is now called a "solve-it-yourself" mystery--for a magazine called Woman's World.

I was surprised at how smoothly it went.  Part of it was the quiet and the solitude, I guess, and the knowledge that there really wasn't anything else to do while the rest of my crew were off someplace having a good time.  Whatever the reason, the ideas and the words seemed to appear in my stuffy head without much effort at all.  It did, however, take some effort to make them appear in tangible form, since I was using an ink pen and a yellow legal pad I had thrown into my briefcase for the trip.  (My iPad worked well for e-mail and websurfing but I had not yet--and still have not--installed a word-processing program on it.)  I do actually remember how to write words by hand, though, and within half an hour I had jotted down a rough draft on the first four sheets of my lined pad.

The cutting-room floor

The rewriting was the only thing that was hard.  I do a lot of rewriting, and always have, but I'm a bit spoiled; after all, editing my own work on a computer screen is easy.  On paper it's not.  I did a few markouts and additions and other corrections on the sheets I'd already written, but most of my revisions were accomplished by starting over and writing a complete second draft, and then a third.  And since these WW submissions must have a short and very specific wordcount, I even wound up (don't laugh) counting the words each time, right down to every "a" and "the."  Which can be a tiresome job, and a reminder of how things "used to be."

When I was done I had filled a dozen pages, the first eight of which, of course, were now worthless.  The last four pages contained the almost-final draft of my handwritten story.

By then it was past lunchtime, so I gobbled down whatever food I could find in our Ponderosa-sized kitchen, caught a nap, and then took my better-(I hoped)-but-not-yet-completed story out onto the third-floor deck to read it over. I have always--even during my college and Air Force days--been able to do some of my best thinking when my feet are elevated to at least the level of my head, and one of the adjustable lounge chairs was just right for this phase of my creative process.  By the time my weary and sweaty kinfolks had returned from their day's adventures, I had made all my final edits and had a story in hand that now was . . . well, I won't say perfect--but was as perfect as I thought that particular story could be.  I had a product that was ready to be taken home, typed, and submitted to the WW fiction editor.

Post-production notes

Every day after that, I hiked through hill and dale with the rest of the family; my cold was better and my story was finished and safely packed away.  When we wrapped up the week and had driven the five hundred miles back to our house in Mississippi I did indeed send that story off into the world to try to make something of itself.  I haven't yet heard anything back about it, so I don't know if it'll prove to be a winner or a loser, but at least I'm satisfied with it.

I've completed several more stories since then, but all of those have been written right here in this chair in my home office, using my trusty iMac.  My future plans include installing the Apple version of MS Word on my iPad, but until then, on any trip I take, I plan to again pack plenty of paper and a few Foray rollerball pens.  Just in case I find myself grounded for a while.

Call it a wilderness survival kit.

13 comments:

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

John, I'm awestruck by your industry--and on vacation with your feet elevated. Wow!

John Floyd said...

Liz, vacationing feet should always be elevated. And truthfully, the only reason I got that piece of writing done was that I was too stuffed up with a cold to get out that day.

Writing is always fun, but especially so when/if there's nothing else to do.

Anita Page said...

It sounds like a lovely week, John, and that you have VERY well-behaved grandchildren.

Like you, I always bring a real notebook on vacation. It's reassuring to have something along that doesn't need to be charged.

R.T. Lawton said...

John, nice article. Coincidentally, my next two posts will deal with writing for Woman's World Magazine, so I hope to hear more on that subject from you in the future.

John Floyd said...

We did have a good week, Anita. Our oldest son and his wife and three kids live in West Virginia, so the Smokies were about midway between them and the rest of us.

You make a good point, about not needing to recharge the old faithful writing equipment. (But I'd sure never want to have to write that way all the time . . .)

John Floyd said...

Thanks, R.T.--and I look forward to reading your thoughts about writing for Woman's World.

Several of our blogmates and frequent readers (among them Deborah Elliott-Upton and Herschel Cozine) haven also written for WW. I still enjoy writing the longer mysteries, and probably always will, but those really short puzzlers are a LOT of fun to dream up.

Herschel Cozine said...

I can identify with the elevated feet. But I'm afraid that doesn't do anything for my creativity.

John, your paper and pen approach brought back a lot of memories. Just the other day while cleaning out an old box I ran across a yellow legal pad I had used BC. I think I'll frame it. My grandchildren have no idea what it was used for.

John Floyd said...

Herschel, here's something that'll boost your creativity: around midnight, eat a bowl of chili, or maybe some jambalaya with extra-spicy sausage. At 3 a.m. or so, you'll be dreaming in Technicolor and Cinemascope.

I'm sure all the literary masters do that, now and then.

David Dean said...

Enjoyed it, John, as usual.

My youngest girl suggested I get a laptop so that I could spend more time on the beach while getting some writing done. That sounded like a good idea, but then I thought of how easily distracted I get working at my own desk. Good idea, but I lack the discipline to pull it off. Even a yellow legal pad and pen would be of no use.

John Floyd said...

Thanks, David!

Whatever method you use, it seems to be working--I always enjoy your stories.

Leigh Lundin said...

John, I'm not sure I want to write extensively on the iPad unless I was using a Bluetooth keyboard. The Apple keyboard is probably more expensive than others, but it certainly a fine piece of sculpture.

Another thought is a MacBook Air, which I bought 3 months ago. It's about the size and thickness of a legal pad, ultralight and a whole lot of fun. I'd hung onto MS Office 2004, so naturally the new computer wanted new software. I'll be writing more about MS Word and free alternatives tomorrow.

John Floyd said...

Leigh, thanks for the advice. I look forward to your word-processing column.

dorothy agustin said...

Thank you John, for sharing your good experienced here. As a mother of two, and my husband only has four vacation a year we see to it that we have a great time. Ahead of time I’ll fix all our paper documents so we are not rushing things when the date comes. Our last vacation was in Malaysia, we are visiting my family there for two months. Even though my kids are not that fan of soy foods, they are still enjoying the places and other food that my Mom and Dad offered. Their grandpa and grandma are very happy when we got there. Spending time with your love ones was great and really no money can buy. Soon late this year we are planning to have a vacation Kailua Beach Park in Kailua, Hawaii. I’m sure my kids and my husband will love it. -Dorothy of professional essay writers