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  • Melissa Westemeier


I haven't written much here lately, but trust me, I have been writing. A few times a week I hike at a local nature preserve, a habit that clears my mind and my spirit. About six years ago I concluded that even though we own plenty of acres here, it's a pain in the butt to wander around on it because in the spring it's flooded, in the summer it's full of nasty plants that prick and poison, in the fall it's a destination for people trying to hunt. That leaves winter for hiking on my own property, which is fantastic (the ground is frozen, the foliage is dead, the hunters have laid down their weapons), but I needed to find a spot to ramble year-round. The nearby nature center fits the bill, plus the trails are maintained beautifully and there's rarely other people around so it's as private as my own property most of the time. While hiking (a word which, let's face it, is just a tougher-sounding synonym for walking, but I use it because there are hills and no paved paths and it makes me sound way cooler to "hike" instead of "walk") I explore my thoughts uninterrupted. I also do a lot of business with God while out in the woods because nature draws me closer to Him.

No bullets or arrows on this trail!

It's during this time in the woods that I grapple with what to write about. After my last book about Bassville I wanted to tackle something fresh--new setting and characters, create a world where no one had expectations. Last winter, shortly after Christmas, a brand-new idea came to me and I noodled around for a few months before starting to develop it. Summer came and I plunged in, fleshing out the setting and people who would tell the tale of a war for water. (This description makes that project sound epic, doesn't it? It's not quite at that scale, but it's a story about water and protecting it, an issue dear to my heart.) My writing partners approved of what I showed them and gave me insightful suggestions for how to continue, and I enthusiastically worked on my story until the end of July when the words and pages stopped flowing.

When the well is dry (yes, we're sticking with the water metaphor), sometimes it's wise to dig deeper, so I kept tapping in for a few more weeks. Then I realized I needed an infusion of information from a better source. I have a dear friend who fought a water war years ago (the story is loosely based on her experience) and an interview with her would give me enough to get going again. Except now it was the end of August and despite our best effort, it was impossible to meet up. My water story was paused and I sat with nothing to do.

But it turned out I did have something else to work on: notes for another project that I'd jotted down the previous August. I dusted them off and decided to give that story a try and see what might happen. One cool aspect of writing is that sometimes your ideas just "click" and the characters take over and develop the story for you. The clicking doesn't always happen and I've trashed plenty of "starts" over the years, but almost from day one with this project I had smooth sailing while I pieced the notes together. The notes were for a murder mystery, a type of tale I've never written before, and I happily banged away at my laptop keys, oblivious of the time passing and the word count crawling ever up and up and the next thing I knew it was November and I had written the entire manuscript!

How was such a thing possible? For one thing, I quit my job last spring and haven't gone back to work full-time, so I have time and I have head space that I've never experienced before. When my offspring were little, they took up most of my energy and thoughts. When I taught high school, I had very little remaining in the tank by the end of any given week. Currently I'm enrolled in a grad program and working part time, but neither activity exhausts me to the point where I cannot write. It's been marvelous to commit to writing without keeping one eye on the calendar and another on the clock.

Last week I sent my new manuscript to my writing partners for feedback. Yesterday I completed and submitted one of two major projects for my grad class--my school work is nearly complete until the next class begins in January. A fresh expanse of space and time looms before me once more and there's only one thing to do now: hit the trail and discover what happens!

Spill it, reader. What activity gives your brain space to create and think?

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