Yesterday I sweated out the first draft of my story about watching wildlife at House Rock. It actually was sweaty work, as the temperature in my second-floor office climbed toward 90. Despite the heat, words came easily. Some part of my mind had been drafting text for days, so writing was more a matter of carving out keyboard time than of thinking up new things to say.
A week ago I mentioned that, when it comes to writing, I sometimes suffer stage fright. On this trip, again, I observed how the process works in my little brain. I get nervous; I get excited; I hit the road; words start flowing. By the time I was halfway down that rock-strewn road to wildlife area headquarters, I knew I would use Carrie King’s line, “This road eats tires,” in the story. The process had begun.
The next day, as we checked on wildlife waters and hiked to the spring that is their source, words streamed through my mind. I couldn’t capture them as they came: We were either hiking or bouncing along a rough road in a big truck, and I couldn’t hold pen to paper. So I decided to trust the words to be waiting when I reached my computer.
We did a lot of talking and thinking about water during my trip. In that dry climate, its capture and storage and movement are obsessions. One of King’s primary duties is keeping waters flowing for wildlife. She manages miles of pipe and immense 20,000-gallon tanks, overflow boxes and ponds by the score. Somehow, the spring that is the source of much of this water keeps pumping out liquid, and the wildlife waters stay wet.
For all of us who labor with words, wouldn’t it be sweet to believe that writing works this way, too? The ceaseless flow; the ability to store and direct the words to where they are needed; the tap that can be turned to increase the flow; the verdant, life-giving result. Bouncing along in the truck, my mind busy writing while my hands stayed idle, I wanted to believe this: that I could trust the flow of words when the time came to capture them.
My first draft was 3,200 words long.