All year I dream of summer, wait for summer, count the days and weeks and months until summer, because that is when I get to write at the Farm—my family’s orchard in Eastern Washington. I leave the city and drive 250 miles over two mountain passes to reach paradise in the Methow Valley. When I arrive on the 100 acre Farm, I hang the hammock under the maple trees, haul out the deck chairs, put up a big umbrella to shade my laptop from glare, plug in a long extension cord, and begin to write outside. For me, writing outside is pure bliss. I can look up at the hills—no houses, no people, no internet, no e-mail, no cars, no noise—only the pear trees, pine trees, sagebrush, and meadow larks. Also, I spend most of the time in almost complete solitude as my father-in-law spends his summers fishing in Alaska.
So I write and write, and after a few days, something marvelous happens. I become inhabited by my story. Even when I am not writing—taking a walk in the canyon, or resting in the hammock, or reading a book—my story is with me. Everything I see or think seems to speak to the story, or speak from the story. This is a magical experience whereby the imagination becomes luminous. My best work results.
After a week or so at the Farm, I drive back home for a week there—so my husband will remember my face! Then I return to the Farm. And that is how my summer goes—a lot of driving. Sometimes I get lonely. Sometimes I ask very special writing friends like Lorie Ann Grover and Justin Chen to come write with me for a week.
I am sad when September comes. I don’t know how to achieve this state of luminous imagination in my city life in the winter, where I juggle writing with my freelance work as a lettering artist. But I have learned a few things which help. When not at the Farm, I write in the morning. I check my e-mail in the morning before I begin writing. I respond ONLY to urgent business from clients, editor, agent. The rest can wait. Then I turn off the e-mail. I don’t look at it again until noon. I also do not answer most phone calls. I do this because I have learned that getting busy with the outside world disrupts the focus I need to write well. (It takes amazing discipline not to check e-mail and not to answer the phone.) I also have learned that I need what I call active drifting time. At the Farm, I achieve this in the hammock. I swing under the maple trees and let my story swing in my mind. I let my mind carry the story wherever it wants to go—even into the realms of the absurd. The idea is to let your story free, to be unstructured. I might end up using only one idea or image from my drifting time, often a nugget of pure gold. So when I am not at the Farm, I also give myself active drifting time under the skylight in my office.
I know I am lucky to have the Farm. In fact, the Farm has given me the inspiration for four books now—Firegold and White Midnight, my young adult fantasies, and my forthcoming Eva of the Farm (Atheneum Summer 2012) and its as yet untitled companion volume (Atheneum Summer 2013). All of these are set on orchards.
So try writing outside and see what happens. And may you, too, have a summer of luminous imagination.