just start writing

two months ago my favorite publishing company–torrey house press–approached me with an idea for a book, and asked me if I would be interested in taking on the project.  let me clarify:  they approached me with a topic.  a one-word topic, a topic that they said I could take on and write about in any way that inspired me.  sounds great, doesn’t it?  sounds like a dream job, sounds like something any writer with half a brain should say yes to.

so I said yes, (because I appear to have–sometimes if not always–about half a brain).  and thus I find myself writing a book about wolves.

yep, wolves.

and it is going to be a damn good book.

I’ve been researching like crazy for the past two months, reading and interviewing and traveling to yellowstone and missoula and bozeman, thinking and feeling and synthesizing it all . . . and I am creating an incredible book about something I never even knew I might care about.  at least, I’m creating this incredible book when I can tear myself away from the never-ending research.

about a month into my indoctrination-by-overload into the world of wolves, I had eight books stacked on my table and I needed a bike ride.  along the route, my biking buddy bob was listening to my current-and-future wolf reading list, and he said to me, “back in college, a professor once told me–after listening to all of the research I’d done–just start writing.”

so I just started writing.  and I’m still writing, and researching, and reading, and continuing to write.

there are numerous books about wolves already out there:  you can read about the reintroduction of wolves into yellowstone, you can read the science, you can read books with amazing pictures, you can read about people who camped and lived with a wolf pack for six years.  mine will be nothing like these:  they’re already out there.  mine is a personal story, a personal journey, with universal application.  it’s a book about wolves, and it’s also a book about what it means to be human, in a world with wolves.

and it’s getting written.  slowly.  there’s more research to do, more experiences to be had, more people to talk with.  but I’m remembering to write.  because it’s an awful lot like bicycling:  nothing happens when you don’t pedal.  and once you begin pedaling, your destination comes closer and closer, one pedal stroke at a time.

one day you’ll want to be reading my wolf book.  because not only am I an excellent researcher, but I’m a darn good writer and I’m going to keep writing, one word at a time, each day bringing my destination just a little bit closer, and closer, until one day, the wolf book will be ready for you and I will begin writing something else.


I love research, whether it be the origin of a phrase, the date of a birth, or the history of a person or event.   I’m a dedicated fact-checker, a punctilious speller, meticulous in my efforts to state things correctly.  I love learning causes and explanations and silly little facts, and I find digging into the why’s and where’s to be an intriguing challenge.  while my greatest joy in writing is to be in that place of “flow” where the words come flying through my fingers with very little conscious participation, I find the researching aspect of writing to be a challenge that when answered brings me incredible satisfaction.

another form of writing research is possibly even better, though . . . and that would be the times I research the writing styles of other authors.

stephen king has been credited with the following words of wisdom:   If you want to be a writeryou must do two things above all others:read a lot and write a lot.

darn, I have to read.  a lot.  what drudgery.

I pretend it’s work, while I’m singing inside.

these past few days I’ve been rereading a book I read nine years ago, a book I love, the time traveler’s wife (if you haven’t already, please read this book.  skip the movie: read this fabulous book).  it’s research, you see, as my latest project has a vague connection to issues written about by ms. niffenegger.  I snuggle into my corner of the couch, a chenille throw draped around my knees and toes, and dig into my research.  serious countenance aside, I am inwardly grinning and happy as a clam.

to be honest, though, I often end up reading works I don’t care quite so much for in attempts to be “aware” and on top of the literary scene.  (no, haven’t tried fifty shades of anything, yet.)  I have forced myself through pulitzer prize winning books, and books on top of “everyone’s” must-read lists, classics, and even those suggested by friends, all in efforts to broaden my experiences and taste.  to increase my exposure, to stay current.  I am too kind to make a list of Books I Couldn’t Finish, or even Books I Wanted To Stop Reading But Didn’t Because They Won Prizes.  but I will share those titles in close company, and shake my head in amazement that I am so uneducated?  dense?  narrow?  as to think little of them.

but fortunately, most of my reading-research involves books I actually enjoy reading.  from each book, story, or essay I read I pick up ideas.  phrasing, methods, new words, craft . . . there is always something for a writer to learn from another written work.

so please excuse the brevity, but I must return to ms. niffenegger’s book because it seems that I still have work to do.