Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Deadlines are a writer's best friend

Hello from sunny, freezing Seattle. My car is still sitting under a foot of snow, while I walk everywhere in this bright, bitterly cold world.

Alas, I am supposed to get in my car tomorrow for a three-hour drive to Mount Rainier where I'm working with the park on a *super cool* *top secret* (not really) project. After months of trying to set this meeting set up, I cancelled last week because of abominable weather and predictions of the WORST STORM OF THE DECADE.

Miraculously, we managed to reschedule the meeting for tomorrow, and now...the news is predicting DIRE FREEZING TREACHEROUS weather. Which, of course, for anyone in a state used to snow would be no problem but here in Washington we Seattleites stay home at the merest hint of the "s" word.

Oh well. Mother Nature has her own ideas. My *top secret* project -- to help Mt. Rainier launch an artist-in-residence program -- will just have to wait a little bit longer.

Meanwhile I have been working very hard on the article about my kayaking trip that will be published in the February issue of Alaska Airlines Magazine. It's amazing what a deadline and a strict word count will do to galvanize you. I had been slaving away on that article since SEPTEMBER, writing draft after horrible draft, which is what always happens when I don't have an actual deadline or assignment.

Then - glory be! - I got the assignment and suddenly I whipped that thing into shape. I wouldn't have been able to do it without my writing bible, however, a book called Writing for Story: Craft Secrets of Dramatic Nonfiction by Jon Franklin. Not only does this book break down story structure for you and give you bomber formula for outlining, it also describes in detail the different types of narrative in any given story or article and how they should be used.

It made me understand, for example, how in the *climactic* scene where Dave and I *face down* a *ravenous* grizzly in our camp, that I can't tell the reader how I feel but must SHOW it.

Oh. Wait. I should know that already, shouldn't I? Well it's a lot harder than you might think to show rather than tell. There's only so many times you can talk about your "heart pounding" to show that you're effing terrified (which happened about every five seconds on that trip).

Anyhoo. I'm proud of the article. Most of the travel articles I've written have been newspaper-style pieces, and while the writing is just fine, I don't dig very deep. I do believe I took a step forward with my writing. Even if there are still some cliches that need to be weeded out. (Those are harder to avoid than you might think as well). In fact, I do believe I actually used the phrase "untamed wilderness."

Eh. Whatever.

As I've been writing about Alaska, I've been dreaming of Mexico. Hawaii. Warm. Places. Mmm.