Ever thought of writing a book? I think it’s crossed a lot of peoples' minds—and looking at the proliferation of books on my shelf, a lot of people have actually gone ahead and done it too.
For years I resisted. The obvious choice for me would be to write a nonfiction piece about one of my adventures. The problem is that I find it difficult to spend half-a-year writing about something that's already happened.
I’d already canoed across Canada, circumnavigated Haida Gwaii by kayak and cycled the frozen Yukon River in winter. The adventures were done and I had more adventures to do, so why live in the past?
Spending months on end writing about something that you already know the conclusion of is the opposite of adventure. Writing feature articles for magazines, on the other hand, is great—you can focus on a key aspect or theme of the journey and knock off a piece in a week or two. A book though… totally different story.
I had a change of heart during the long, dark days of winter a few years ago. I was working a regular job and didn’t have any epic journeys on the near horizon. I craved escape but couldn’t afford to get away. Instead, I decided not to write about one of my past escapades, but to write a fictional novel. If I couldn’t go on a physical adventure, I was going to give an imaginary one a try instead.
I had a loose idea for the novel that centres around a man who essentially drops out of society and goes to live alone in a cabin in Northern Ontario for a year. He wants to spend four seasons up there figuring out what he's going to do with his life. So that was my framework—simple, straightforward. I had no idea what direction the actual story would take—it was limited only by my imagination.
I put myself in the shoes of the main character and let my brain wander for several hundred words per day. Over the course of a few months I made fictional friends, had fictional adventures, faced fictional peril and found fictional love. It was almost as if I was on a real canoe or ski journey, where every day presented a fresh landscape full of possibility. Like on an expedition, I was excited for each day of writing—eager to see where my mind would take me next.
After six months, I’d written a 255-page book called Blind Bay. Like a canoe trip across Canada, the adventure had concluded and it was fresh in my mind. I knew each character intimately and would miss my time with them each day. It was as real to me as any one of my physical journeys.
I shared the manuscript with friends and acquaintances for feedback. Once I was content with it, I had Todd Macfie, a former trip partner and artist friend of mine, create a cover (above). I formatted it and published a few copies via print on demand, chiefly to have one copy to bring up to my family’s cottage on a bay close to Parry Sound—not coincidentally named “Blind Bay.” I decided not to wade into the endless rejection letter cycle that is the bane of any fiction writer. Like on any great expedition, the journey—not the conclusion—was the whole point of it.
As you read this, my little novel rests on the bookshelf at the cottage in view of an open window that looks over its namesake waters. Occasionally, a visitor will pick it up and have a read, then put it faithfully back up on that shelf. The light streaming through the window has steadily faded the spine of the book, season by season, year by year. It weathers away like the memory of real trips I did long ago, but like them will always remain fond in my memory—an ode to something I love.
So if you find yourself stuck and dreaming of adventure, but don't have a way to make it happen in the immediate future, take a crack at writing your own book. Anyone can do it. Make up a loose premise and peck away at it for 20 or 30 minutes per day.
Don't worry about what anyone else thinks or if it will get published. This is your adventure—absolutely unique in every way. You'll be amazed at the places your imagination will take you.
(By the way, if you have any inkling to check out Blind Bay, but don’t have time to head up to Northern Ontario, pull that fading book off the shelf and sit back on my deck to read it, you can check it out online or via print on demand at Lulu or iTunes.)