We spent a month in Canada this summer. On a remote-ish lake, in a cottage that was like a big RV. We read the Little House books while we were there, because we were all sleeping in one big room like they did. The idea for this time was to set up some new patterns for our family, to figure out what we could do all day if we had some extra emptiness.
Every morning I ran through the woods for an hour. The mosquitoes were my tiny coaches, gently encouraging me with their bloodthirsty mandibles. I found this to be a delightful warm-up for the true challenge of the day: my writing assignment. Every day, Jon gave me a new topic to write about. His goal was that I would write a story about that idea and then he and the girls would illustrate one scene or character.
Each time, he gave me a simple challenge. And on every single occasion, I took that straightforward concept and made it as perplexing and arduous as was humanly possible. It was like he gave me a bright, shiny new bike day after day and said “Carrie, I want you to ride this from here down to the corner of this straight street” and I said “yes, definitely I can do that, fantastic”. Then I happily got on that bike and slammed it into the only existing telephone pole. Crash. Crash. Crash. For like 2 weeks. It was exhausting.
If Jon asked for a story about a squirrel finding a new nest, I spent an average of 12 hours trying to describe what she loved about her old one. One day I was supposed to be telling a short tale about two animal neighbors, and I enthusiastically delved into the when’s and why’s of how their backwoods village came to be founded. Crash.
About two and a half weeks in,instead of settling down into my usual chair on the dock to write, I climbed into the paddle boat and took myself out to the beaver lodge across the bay. One of my characters was a beaver and I was sure this would help. From the cottage, Jon saw where I was going and thought I was attempting an escape. Maybe I was.
Sometimes all it takes to get a new perspective is to sit in a different spot. Sitting out there on the water, it suddenly occurred to me: I needed to use Speedo. It was the imaginary button on that paddleboat that Kalley and I pushed if Jon and Corbett were ever too far ahead of us. It made us go really fast. That day I figured out that it totally works on stories too. I pushed that button, introduced my characters, gave them a problem, a solution and a happy ending. It wasn’t very good, and you will never read it, but sitting out on the lake, I constructed a story in an hour, and that was a huge thrilling deal to me. I was finished by the mid-day ski session, which had NEVER happened before.
The next day, I did it again. No paddleboat this time, just a speedo story. This one was about some bunnies and someday, probably tomorrow, I will let you read it.