November 12, 2007
Conceal thy tenets, thy treasure, and thy traveling.
— Richard Francis Burton, 1821-1890
English adventurer, quoting an Arab proverb in
Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah, 1855
My three most recent pieces here have not mentioned Wyoming. I told my notify list yesterday that it was only three days until they’re all about that. Today’s piece returns early to my current obession — I am going to Wyoming for a month to write a novel.
I found the thought quoted above in a book of writing exercises, Brian Kitely’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany: Uncommon Writing Exercises that Transform Your Fiction. It introduces a section of thirteen exercises built around the idea of traveling. Kitely intends his exercises to help writers avoid censoring themselves, repeating familiar patterns of behavior, falling into ruts. The image of an untroubled, inspired writer who just breathes out a great story is a false one. Writing, like athletics, is hard work and requires practice and exercise.
“Travel is an endless set of digressions or tangents,” writes Kitley. I’m hoping that this trip will be a travel adventure (light on the adventure, please) only in the going out and the coming back. I want my days in Wyoming to be focused on the task at hand: finish the novel I started as a writing exercise in January of 2002. I’m not renting a car, at least not at first, so I won’t be tempted, initially, anyway, to go gallivanting. But I am packing my portable GPS, just in case. After all, the Montana border is only about twenty-five miles away. I want to be able to say I visited Montana as well.
In “Goodnight, Colorado,” Exercise 184 in The 3. A.M. Epiphany, Kitely suggests collecting place names and organizing them into some kind of narrative order. I’ll be near towns with ordinary names, such as Sheridan, New Haven, and Dayton. But the map also shows me Lame Deer, Spotted Horse, Recluse, and Ten Sleep.
When I tell people that I am going to Wyoming, some of them react with wonder and excitement. Sheridan is 1800 miles west and a little north of where I sit right now, and I wonder if there are any people there who are dreaming of a trip to central Pennsylvania some day. I tell my friends that I am not going on a ski vacation, a horseback riding vacation, or any other kind of vacation. I am going out west to work. My manuscript is not set in Wyoming, it’s set in some generic east coast university town not unlike the ‘burgs of central Pennsylvania I am familiar with.
But I’ve already given a Wyoming childhood to one character, as a tribute to my first trip there. I’ve pictured him as hailing from Laramie, part of which is a typical college town where I enjoyed hospitality in the libraries and food courts of the University of Wyoming. I have a feeling that in a few weeks he’ll be coming from Ten Sleep or Saddlestring.
How could I resist a name like that?
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