52 Pickup 2.0, #34, 8/25/2020
“I’ve heard you say that building your ranch was one of the best things in teaching yourself how to write your novels, how so?”
I did build my ranch myself, mostly because nobody wanted to come out here in the middle of nowhere—besides, at that point I probably couldn’t have afforded them anyway.
I grew up with one of those fathers who looked at you as slave-labor until you escaped and went off to college, but until then my job was to follow him around and assist in holding tools, lumber, electrical supplies, and plumbing parts. I did a lousy job of being an apprentice, but you’d be amazed at what rubs off when you do it long enough.
After buying the property here in Ucross, I designed the house and had the logs delivered and that’s what arrived–logs. It was a little disheartening to look at all those random log lengths at first, but I figured anything you fine-tuned with a chainsaw was probably within my capabilities. I started building, stacking logs from daybreak to sunset and I’ll tell you I’d put in fourteen hours of back-breaking work and look back and it appeared as if I’d done nothing—and I guess that’s where the writing ethic started taking hold.
I was young back then, or relatively young, and I figured everything in life could be done over a three-day weekend… I learned differently.
Writing a book is a lot like any lengthy endeavor–you have to make a commitment to the unknown, or at least realize that its going to take a while to accomplish, and that the rules are going to change along the way. The tired old aphorism is that it’s a journey, but there’s a reason hackneyed old statements like that hang around—they’re true.
When you start building a house, the plans change because the idea and use of the place begins to evolve as the reality of it becomes clearer. Most good builders would never think of starting a house without a good blueprint or set of house plans, but then things change, you discover other opportunities and modifications that will make it a better place to live. The same goes for a novel. In my opinion, you need a good outline to keep from hitting the old bugaboo, writer’s block. Not knowing what happens next and the pacing as to how to tell the story is all writer’s block is…
But. Things change and you learn a lot more about a story by writing it, opportunities arise, and you find yourself more inclined to explore them the more at ease you become as a writer. You have to embrace the unknown just a bit and allow the creativity of chaos a place in your work; it’ll surprise you and in turn you may be able to surprise the reader.
There’s still a balance in my working life–half of my time is spent creating the world of Absaroka County and the other is the physical labor involved with owning a ranch. I’ve just gotten done blocking and stacking eighteen cords of firewood, and now I’ll move on to the next chore because they never really end. I love being out of doors and accomplishing things, but then Walt, Henry, Vic and the rest start preying upon my mind and I need to get back inside and get writing.
All and all, it’s a pretty wonderful and balanced life.
See you on the trail,