I Went Into the Woods to Finish a Book

That’s right. I’m Jack Torrance now.

The truth is, I hate being late for things. I almost hate being right “on time”. Ask anyone who’s wanted to meet me at the movie theater. If the previews have started, I’ve left the lobby to find my seat. They can show up whenever the hell they want after that.

So I had six months to write this novel I was doing, another four to edit it. But by the deadline (November 30th), I was still writing. I started over from scratch in August and tried to cram those six months into four. Then I needed to cram four months of editing into the few weeks I got for an extension. I knew I couldn’t do it the way I was progressing: working 8 hours a day at my job, then coming home to try and focus in a spare bedroom I started to associate with hair-pulling and nail-chewing. In other words, all work and no play was making me a dull, dull boy.

I managed to get a week off from my day job to go find a new place to work. A co-worker of mine told me Duluth was perfect for unplugging and unwinding, so I started there. Then I remembered the climax of my book takes place about 30 miles north of Duluth, in a little North shore town called Two Harbors (and the unincorporated area called ‘Castle Danger’ slightly northeast of that). I perused Airbnb and saw some cute apartments & nice little homes next to various bars and restaurants in the area, but nothing felt quite “right”.

Then a place popped up called “Cedarwood Hideaway” in a wooded area about 5 miles north of town. I looked at it on the map and thought it was a mistake. There was nothing but this tiny hut, surrounded by acres of trees. To make things more interesting, the tiny hut had no electricity & no running water. This all spoke to the artist in me, the outdoorsman in me, the goldamn Minnesotan in me… but it did not speak to the practical side of me (aka the one who needed a laptop plugged in to get anything done).

Besides, could I really hack it alone out there? I wasn’t sure. My wife Lauren (and dog Daisy) would be down for an adventure like this with me. We make a great team anytime we rough it. I showed it to her, kind of a “ha ha, look at this, wouldn’t this be stupid if I did that?” with the nervous side-eye as she browsed the listing. Then she said, “I think you should do it,” and after that there was no turning back.

As part of my prep work, I made sure to stay modest about what I was doing. I hoped to get at least half the book done. I had three POVs, so I decided to focus on the main one. And though I’d started over in August, I still made a blunder of writing the first third in present tense. That had to go, too. I kept my goals minimal.

But then I came to learn that having no TV & no WiFi was basically the same as sprinkling fairy dust on a manuscript (along with getting snowed in the first day!) I got through the first quarter of the book in a day, trading between marking up my paper with a trusty purple pen and doing the changes on my computer, which I needed to keep powered off most of the time.

On day 3, I switched things up by heading to the Two Harbors library. I’d been plowed out and my computer needed a charge, and I knew had to meet the town I was writing about a little more intimately. I got soup and half a sandwich at the Vanilla Bean, then checked out a small bookstore with a surprising selection called Sweet Peas & Back Forty Books.

The store was empty, so I had a nice fifteen-minute chat with an employee named Katie about everything from independent bookselling to life in the North woods (despite looking/smelling like I’d spent the last few nights sleeping in my car). It was illuminating and very friendly, and I look forward to returning to sign my book there one day, wink wink.

Lady Superior

I stayed in the cabin for the most part on day 4, then hit the town for some nightlife being that I had to say goodbye the next morning. I finished line-editing my book over a beer at one of my choice brewers, Castle Danger Brewery (I had to drive up and get a picture at the sign to the non-existent town first), then took a pizza home from Do North Pizzeria, who cuts it into squares (my favorite!) and drank one of my non-exploded beers to celebrate my completely edited book!

I left early the next morning to beat a blizzard that had already started coming in, cutting my trip slightly short. Though the skies were fat with snow and sleet, inside the car I was humming to the crappy music on my radio because I was frickin’ done. My goals had been completely smashed, thanks to a little hideaway I’d found in the place where all my characters’ stories came to an end. I couldn’t imagine any better way to finish a book, and I already know my future self will forever be jealous of my past one for getting to experience something like this for the first time.

If you’re a writer, then you owe it to yourself to treat yourself like one once in a while. I’m incredibly glad I did. Thank you to my little Cedarwood Hideaway and the towns of Two Harbors & Castle Danger for hosting me. I’m not sure magic can ever happen twice, but I’ll be happy to give it a shot.

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