Summer ends quickly in the arctic. By early August clouds obscured the sun, and rainy days brought a close to my time spent on the tundra or the beach. For the last three weeks I got more writing done than I ever have in my life.
One desire for this year off work has been to learn more about myself as a writer, to push myself and grow and give myself a chance to complete major projects that I’ve just never had the time to work on in more than small spurts. I wrote about that in my “Texas to Alaska” post before coming up here.
The weeks in Alaska have been wonderful in seeing that desire fulfilled. I came here with the vague goals of “nail down the main storyline” and “start writing the book.” I’m leaving with over 30,000 words of the first draft—about half of what I anticipate the total length to be—and a solid outline of what the second half will look like.
The process of getting to this point hasn’t been what I expected. I didn’t sit down and write a complete, detailed outline before fleshing out the setting and dialogue and beautifully sketched characters. The process was much more fluid. I brainstormed a very basic outline. I wrote a couple thousand words. I outlined more. I wrote a couple dozen more pages. I scratched out half the outline. I wrote a new opening scene. I added a bit more to the outline and tried to write the next couple of scenes. I gave myself a headache for five days straight because my own book was boring me to tears and I couldn’t imagine anyone else ever wanting to read it. I moved from the couch to my bed to the downstairs couch to the couch of the lady I was housesitting for. I stared at the wall or the back of my eyelids for hours, begging my poor creative self to come up with a way to make this thing more interesting, have a little tension, be building towards a climax with even a smidgen of excitement. I decided to forget it, just write the next scene, let the ideas flow and trust that the storyline would eventually come together—well, that’s what I told myself, but I didn’t fully believe it would actually happen that way.
But it did. It wasn’t easy, it’s still not finished, but the ideas are there. The potential for a climactic scene that resolves the tension of the previous 150 pages definitely exists now, where it did not exist in days and weeks previous.
That’s all I wanted out of this time in Alaska. To get to this point, to understand more what it will take for me to write this book and possibly others. I’m happy to see what it’s going to take and to have a sense that I can do this, can actually make it work.
I’m leaving for Texas today, a month early. Plans change, especially when you’ve set out to spend a year flying by the seat of your pants. In many ways my time in Kotzebue has been all I could have dreamed of for a summer in Alaska. Took a flight up the Kobuk River in a bush plane. Helped pull in salmon nets. Saw an arctic tern. Picked blueberries on the tundra. Ate Alaskan king crab fresh from the sea. Camped on the beach to watch the sun set after midnight. Drove a Honda 4-wheeler around town. And made memories with great friends who have included me in their family this past two months.
But the 4-wheeler gets old when it rains for days on end, and I miss my car and so many other conveniences that just can’t be found here in the arctic. You’d think that after 10 years in rural Asia I’d not have a problem going without convenience—but I guess I just wasn’t prepared to jump back into that lifestyle so soon after returning to America. That’s not the reason I’m going back to Texas early, but it’s the reason that going back early is perfectly fine with me.
So, I’ll be in Fort Worth for a few weeks. Next stop after that: Wyoming.