Friday, November 02, 2007

A Dose of My Own Medicine

I spent most of today at the Vegas Valley Book Festival (read about the whole day at my Vegas Girl blog), but only one of the sessions held any information for writers. Travel writer Tom Miller talked about his travels and about creating a sense of place, of delving into history, people, and culture. I’ve spent the past year dong a lot of travel writing, so I enjoyed hearing that I’m on the right track, so to speak.

As an interactive exercise, Miller told us all to write one or two paragraphs on a travel destination. I chose Pipe Spring, Arizona, which I recently wrote about for a local magazine. I’m usually on the other side of these types of exercises, so it was a new experience to be the one frantically writing.

The group was slow to share, and I didn’t want to read mine at all, but my husband and my conscience kept nudging me. How could I torture the writers in my weekly group with this same kind of impromptu writing exercise and not participate? So I stumbled through my scrawled paragraph, which was illegible even to me, and not very good to boot. I figured I gave the others confidence. Miller said my use of the present tense was “risky,” which I agree with. Curiously, I didn’t even consider tense when I wrote it. I saw the scene so clearly in my mind that I fell into it unintentionally. Here’s exactly what I wrote and read:

The sandstone hills behind Winsor Castle are deceptively steep. Rising behind the fort, the rocky hillside feels like an addition to the fort. These were the hills that women and children hid in when the federal marshals came looking for them during the raids on the polygamists. This is what I think about as I trudge up the switchbacks on the trail to the top – my son and I, fleeing into this rough territory. When I reach the top of the hills, I can see the Grand Canyon’s beginnings in the far distance. This patch of land in northern Arizona is harsh, but not inhospitable – it has water.


But the yuckiness of my paragraph taught me something important. Now I know just how it feels to hear someone say, “Everyone, take out a pen and paper and write about….”

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