10 Minute Writer

Confessions of a Busy Mom Who Became an Independent Novelist

Canoeing Down The Illinois River: A Tribute

For the last two weeks, I’ve been writing, rewriting and rewriting a long chapter in my novel, one in which a Church Singles group goes to Tahlequah, Oklahoma to canoe down the Illinois River. In real life, I’ve done this probably a dozen times. In my mind, as a result of working on this chapter, I’ve floated about a dozen more. It’s so real to me that I smell like sunscreen, I think I’m sunburned and I desperately need to get out of these wet clothes.

As of last night, it is done, (except for a little tweaking) and I’m delighted. I’d like to blog a little about what this chapter means to me and what I’ve learned from it. This is kind of a rambling, so consider yourself warned.

Firstly, this memory of my young adulthood is a potent one. In my real life, it was filled with angst (like who will be my canoe partner?) and conflict (Look! A snake!) and triumph (I found my sunglasses!) I would imagine in every writer’s life there are events in which we can gently steal from or be inspired by in order to develop our plot and characters.

Secondly, because it is such a real memory for me, it is easy to recreate the sensations of this experience. I remember exactly what the pebbly bottom of the river felt like on bare feet. I can see the dozens of dragonflies whiz by. I can feel the contrast of the heat on the back of my neck and the coolness of my wet sneakers. (You should always wear sneakers, by the way.) My own memories are far more vivid and interesting than something I might of researched that I have never experienced. And I hope my readers can see the difference.

Thirdly, the metaphor. I LOVE METAPHORS. Canoeing down a river can be a metaphor for a million different things and I’m the director here, so I can make it be anything. Canoeing down a river already has a built in objective, so any additional conflict (SNAKE!) just heightens the tension and makes the journey more interesting.

Fourthly, and I didn’t think of this until right this second, but this is good for me. It’s kind of soul nourishing to go back to re-live a time and place in which I was happy and enjoying myself. The best thing about writing for writer is not being published but the writing itself. If I had not chosen to write a chapter about canoeing, I would not have re-lived this. And it would have been a loss.

Do you have a memory like this? Do you have a happy place, a favorite activity, or an event that you can turn into a scene or chapter? Take 10 minutes and brainstorm about this. Save a list and think about your current project and consider how you can incorporate it in gently.

And then, because I am about to burst with excitement, I would like to have feedback on my chapter (with the understanding, of course, that it is Chapter 12, and you won’t really understand everything that’s going on). If you leave a comment, and ask for Chapter 12 specifically (to avoid the spammers) I’ll send you a copy. I welcome any comments or suggestions. And I’d love to see what you’re writing too.

With that, I must shower. I’m beginning to smell oddly like fish.

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5 Responses to “Canoeing Down The Illinois River: A Tribute”


  1. You crack me up!


  2. Thank you for sharing this time in your life with us. I know how this can be while writing and as I was reading this story about canoeing, it reminded me about going crabbing with my family. I remember how at first I was petrified of going in the water with the crabs. However, once I got in the water and realized they were more scared of me than I was of them. Also, I remembered the excitement of when I caught my first crab and was able to place it in the bag. It was fun being about the accomplish something and being involved together with my family.

    Thanks for taking me down memory lane to relive a great experience.


  3. Please send me chapter 12! I hope to read it and the rest of your writing starting next week when I have this genealogy project under control.

    I love reading your writing, Katharine. Your wonderful sense of humor permeates your writing and sharpens it perfectly.


  4. I agree with the idea of how nourishing (and cathartic) it can be to revisit old memories and fictionalize them. Nothing better than first-hand research! But sometimes it takes awhile to put enough distance between you and the memory to write about it objectively.


  5. Yes please, I’d love to read chapter 12! And I might take you up on the offer and send you something I’m working on, if you really meant it, that is!

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