Brave in the Woods – On Found Objects, Creativity and Beginnings by Tracy Holczer
My newest book, Brave in the Woods, came out yesterday. On momentous occasions like this, I like to reflect back on the path that brought me there. In this case I’ve been taking stock of not just this book’s creation journey, but the two that came before. My small book mountain is something I never imagined my ADHD brain could accomplish, and I wanted to share a little bit about writing, and the process of how Brave in the Woods came to be.
A few years back, I took a trip to Yosemite with my family. We stayed in a cabin just outside the north end of Yosemite Valley, and when snow came on the day we left, we couldn’t go south and out the way we’d come in. We had to head west, to a lower elevation, so we set our GPS for Highway 5 thinking it couldn’t be far.
What followed was a three hour quest through the least populated areas I’ve ever been to in California. We went miles and miles without seeing a single building or car. We were truly alone, and a little bit lost, in the woods.
At the time, there had been a small collection of odds and ends roaming around my brain. The image of a dog lying on a grave. An illustration of a Grimms’ fairy tale where a girl’s older brother has been turned into a buck. The idea of magical thinking and the role it plays in our well-being. A quest.
Then we came upon this restaurant in the middle of nowhere and a final piece clicked into place, connecting all the others. It wasn’t until I found this piece that I knew I was ready to begin writing.
You might wonder what these images and ideas roaming my brain had in common.
The answer is Brave in the Woods. Before that? Only my fragmented imagination of it.
This is how my novels have all been grown. I can’t begin until I’ve found enough “objects,” even if I don’t know how they all fit together. Next comes thinking, taking stock of each piece, trying them this way and that, taking apart what doesn’t work and starting over. Building a structure out of them. Getting lost.
Getting lost might be the most important part.
All this reflection left me wondering how we might enhance creative writing spaces for kids so they can get lost and find their own “objects” – those things that trigger the creative process. Can we give them time to daydream every single day? Even for just five minutes. Can we help them find ways to hone in on the small turning points of their lives? Can we give them open ended prompts that inspire curiosity?
Why would someone attach a plane to the roof of a restaurant?
How do family legends shape who we are?
What would you do if you were cursed?
These are the questions I asked myself as I wrote Brave in the Woods.
You never know what a writer will consider a found object until it is found. This is why exploration is just as important as words on the page. It is how writers are brave. Kids especially so. We spend a lot of time making wrong turns in order to find the right ones.
Found objects. This seems to be something I return to again and again in my work. In The Secret Hum of a Daisy, Grace’s mom made sandhill cranes out of spoons and other found metals. In Everything Else in the Universe, the story begins when Lucy discovers an army helmet and purple star hidden in her garden. With Brave in the Woods, it’s an antler bone and a family legend that sets Juni on her quest.
If you think about it too long, as I clearly have, you start to wonder if life itself isn’t just a series of found objects and how those objects shape us. Partners, friends, passions, experiences. Books. You name it. We shift and change with each new discovery. That’s the hope, anyway.
To my fellow writers, and we are all writers, let’s be brave and give ourselves room to put together the just-right pieces of our stories. This year more than ever.
May we all be Brave in the Woods.
Tracy Holczer lives in Southern California with her family, two rats, three cats, and one fluffy old dog. She has a deep love for the mountains where she grew up, the lakes and rivers that crisscrossed her childhood, so she writes them into her stories. You can find her online at http://tracyholczer.com.
Loved reading your path to inspiration, and the questions that bubbled up in the process! (Also, is that illustration related to the book? Could you credit the illustrator? Is it Sebastian McKinnon?)
Thank you for sharing this glimpse into your creative process. I never thought about using objects as a way to build ideas. I tend to catch pictures of different visuals, then piece things together from there. I love thinking about how there are all these different approaches of creativity that are available to everyone, which is especially important to share with youth. Congratulations on the release of your newest book! I look forward to checking it out.
Your words resonate deeply! Thanks for these inspiring pieces of writing–the book, and what you’ve said here.
Thank you for this amazing post! I enjoyed reading about using objects to find ideas. I’m looking forward to reading your book.