New dog, new world
Last updated March 17, 2017
My previous posts in this series collected and presented the vast majority, a total of 37, of the options for Outlander tourist attractions in Scotland: book- and film-related sites numbering 15 in Part 1, 11 in Part 2, and 11 in Part 3.
This post tells the story of my planning process for our own Outlander-themed Scotland trip, complete with changes in scope, backtracking, enlisting outside help, comparing and revising itineraries, and reflecting on the choices we made. Next time, I’ll provide a review of our Outlander tour experience and of the tour company we went with for our day tour.
Also in my final post in this travel guide series, I will list and discuss Outlander tour companies and tour options, including additional film locations not covered in my first 3 posts, compile a list of all the resources linked and discussed in the first 4 posts, and run down a list of websites and apps I used and loved but didn’t mention here. I’ll also provide some final thoughts on travel for Outlander, in Scotland, and generally. A sign-off of sorts with directory, closing credits, and bibliography.
Other Scotland trip posts down the road will add to the trail of breadcrumbs I’ve laid down since last October, to highlight specific sites visited, services engaged, adventures experienced, and images captured. Be glad you weren’t subjected to a slide show at my house; you have the privilege to take in these servings in digestible portions. In case you missed the first several, see the list at my introductory post “Scotland Ventured, Scotland Gained.”
It was about this time last year when I began my months’ long planning process for a UK vacation with an Outlander focus. I don’t recommend spending as much time as I did—even if you have it; I simply have an obsessive, high-maintenance approach to project planning. I “just want it the way I want it.”
Still, as with many transcontinental excursions, for travelers from outside the UK going there for the first time, there are some things you should consider and do several months in advance of your departure. The most obvious include booking airfare, lodging, and, of course, your dream Outlander tour. In most cases, it will be wise to book the tour first of all.
Where I Started
My first phase involved researching England and Scotland for places and attractions I would most like seeing. In addition to doing online research, I purchased a set of travel guides and magazines at the bookstore instead of from online, where I previewed them and their reviews, so I could flip through the pages of the options, get a feel for each one’s layout, focus, ease of use, size and weight before buying. These included a combination of books and magazines:
I had enjoyed the color illustrations, digestible organization, and other features of DK’s guide to Provence when I traveled for study abroad in college, and I was not disappointed in any of the DK products I bought for this trip. Fodor’s turned out to have a valuable alternative perspective along with stellar regional maps and recommended sites labeled by “Fodor’s Choice” in each region.
Curse of Abundance
In addition to taking notes on the overall highlights of each major city, I compiled lists of attractions from different regions of England and Scotland into groups. After a few weeks of attempting to narrow the list down to a reasonable set of regions and sights, I then used the suggested itineraries in the guide books to draft a few possible trip outlines. The shortest trip I could stand to plan under these constraints was 16 days, and that turned out to be too long for us due to the budget and timing of our trip.
To solve this problem, I took a different tack: First I created a checklist of steps to consider taking to strategize our tourism.
From this process, I color coded my previously handwritten notes, highlighting preferences and categorizing attractions by type. Fodor’s and the top 10 guides were particularly helpful to this end in their category pages by type of attraction or experience. These included castles, palaces & historic homes, villages & towns, cities small & large, gardens by season, and things like parks, mountains, lakes, and walks.
To narrow further, I even created a Must-NOT-See list of things to avoid because either I did not care about them, they seemed overrated or tourist trappy, or they might even disgust, offend, or otherwise dampen our adventure.
The Must-Flee List
My must-not-see list included things easily captured in online pictures or video and grandeur for its own sake. Between college visits, study abroad, and post-college travel, I had already been to Paris, Normandy, the Loire Valley, Provence, the Riviera, Venice, Florence, Rome, Vienna, Salzburg, and Holland, as well as Utah, Colorado, New York City, Washington, D.C., Virginia Beach, western Massachusetts, upstate New York, and several parts of California. My husband had already been to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Ankara, Istanbul, and Paris.
And together we’d been to Chicago, Wisconsin, Mount Rushmore, Devil’s Tower and the Badlands, the Great Plains, Denver and the Rockies, Northern California, Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard, North and South Carolina, Orlando and the Florida coast, and on a western Caribbean cruise for our honeymoon. With everything we’ve been blessed to see, we didn’t need to be dazzled by immensities.
Other no-nos included shopping meccas (not my thing); Wales which has lots of cool castles (plenty of those in Scotland) but not much else of obvious interest; places too far out of reach, such as the Outer Hebrides, Ireland, Northern Ireland, East Anglia, Cambridge, and the Orkney Islands (though I might make a beeline for Orkney next time for all its uniqueness); gardens best seen in other seasons; famous sites too far off our “circuit” unless personal meaning demands it; too many churches; and too many castles. In London, I discarded Buckingham Palace, Westminster Cathedral, and anything focused solely on the Royals. I just didn’t care.
When all that was said and done, even with all that trimming and relinquishing, I finally realized and admitted to myself that we couldn’t do both England and Scotland in a feasible amount of time without feeling rushed and disappointed by what we would miss. Over the years, my vacation philosophy has evolved to a preference for more in-depth exploration of a smaller territory over the impulse to cover as much mileage as possible before throwing your exhausted carcass back on the plane or in the car home.
At that point, I asked my husband if he would object to visiting only Scotland this time around, and to my surprise, he agreed. I had been laboring under the assumption that he would very much prefer England due to his greater familiarity with it, his frequent exposure to English Premiere League football matches, his Manchester City fandom, and, frankly, his lesser interest in Scotland and Outlander compared to mine.
I was so relieved to gain this freedom of focus, to be able to plan a trip that wouldn’t be the typical whirlwind tour of a vast region that goes by in a blur and becomes more stressful than the everyday work situation your vacation is meant to offset.
Scotland it would be.
To adjust to this change in plans, I purchased the DK Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Scotland pocket guide and a used 2011 edition of Peter Irvine’s Scotland the Best, touted as the guide preferred most by Scots. The top 10 guide provided the same format of best-of lists in various categories—some regional, some interest based—found in the London version.
I would have purchased a more current edition of Scotland the Best, but the best option would not be released until October, after our trip would have ended. I felt the older edition served its purpose and did not regret buying it. Without illustrations or photos, Irvine’s guide focuses on providing comprehensive best-of lists in a broad range of categories and subcategories.
Certain of Irvine’s preferences I found surprising compared to those in the other guides that seemed more in agreement with each other. As a later purchase following so much in-depth research, Scotland the Best turned out to be less useful than the collected wisdom from the other guides, but I was still glad to compare viewpoints and learn about some attractions beyond the beaten path.
With these new tools, some of my more intensely focused additional considerations consisted of narrowing down options among types of attractions found in abundance, such as castles, to only the very best, those nearest along our natural circuit through the country, or those with special literary, historical interest, or film association. For instance, having traveled in Europe and to several major U.S. cities with rich arts scenes, I already knew which types of art I preferred and what kinds of activities my husband and I leaned towards.
I also felt the need to mix in a variety of activities requiring different levels of energy, foot travel distance, and other demands on the human body or mind, spread across several days with rests or natural lulls built in. Thus, an all-day Jacobite Steam Train ride after several days of hoofing it to cover our bases. Hubby slept a total of at least an hour on that West Highland line while the spectacular countryside meandered by, but he had the very legitimate excuse of having been the designated driver of the previous week, adapting to opposite sides of car and road, as well as single-track, stone-sided, and winding roads, for the first time. I was just the navigator.
As for factoring Outlander in with all of these guidelines, I had already begun screening the other guides for popular Scottish sightseeing and scanning Google maps to locate as many Outlander-related sites as possible. I had also oriented myself to some of the better, recommended Outlander tour companies, using Diana Gabaldon’s website as my starting point.
Newly applying the Scotland focus to the Outlander tour search, I then began narrowing down those options to find one that would be more than a half-day but less than 3 days in length so we wouldn’t overdo Outlander at the expense of classic Scotland and an overall varied set of experiences.
I settled on Inverness Tours early on, but as the timing and focus of our trip evolved and solidified, I lost my window of opportunity to book a day tour during the dates we had selected. My second choice became Slainte Scotland, but I hesitated, corresponding with the company to gather more information to clarify exactly which sites the tour would include.
Although it might not seem like we needed it, I did end up hiring a great travel agent, Chima Travel in Akron, Ohio, which helped with reality checking, pre-packaged tour awareness, and eventually discounted airfare and hotel package booking. However, our agent was impressed by my prior homework, to be sure.
“Five Scottish regional destinations for a 2-week visit, clockwise order from the south-west: Most preferred sights are listed for each area, though we may will not make it to all of them.
Glasgow and environs (4 nights Glasgow) – Glasgow Botanic Gardens, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Park, City Chambers, Glasgow Cathedral/Necropolis, a play, boat ride on the river Clyde; Cumbernauld (Outlander studios drive-by), Falkirk Wheel, Stirling Castle, Doune Castle (Monty Python, Castle Leoch), Wallace Monument
The Trossachs, Argyll, and Central Highlands – Loch Lomond (and maybe Loch Katrine) in Trossachs National Park; Loch Awe, Inveraray Castle; Glencoe
The Great Glen, Highlands, and west coast (2 nights Fort William) – Fort William, Glenfinnan Monument (Jacobite Rebellion launch), Jacobite Steam Train to Mallaig, lochs and walks in the Great Glen; Eilean Donan Castle
Inverness and environs (3 nights Inverness) – Inverness Visitors Centre, excursions to Foyers Falls, Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle (maybe a boat ride), Cawdor Castle (Macbeth), Culloden Moor (Jacobite Rebellion), Clava Cairns (standing stones with split rock), Cromarty, Black Isle, Moray Firth
Edinburgh and environs (4-5 nights Edinburgh) – Edinburgh Castle, National Museum of Scotland, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Calton Hill, The Royal Mile main street, which includes Writers’ Museum, Greyfriars Kirk (“Bobby” the Westie), St. Giles’ Cathedral, Scott Monument, and more; Southern Uplands including Rosslyn Chapel and maybe Abbotsford House (Sir Walter Scott) and Melrose Abbey
The above sites are separate from several specific towns and rural locations where the Outlander TV series has been filmed. After some consideration, I’m inclined to skip a packaged Outlander tour in favor of making our own. I know enough about the books, TV series, and show creators that information won’t be lacking, and we need not be further restricted in our movements or schedule. ”
What I ended up doing is splitting the difference and combining self-guided Outlander tourism with a single day’s guided Outlander tour, taking the official tour early on and scooping up the remainder once we obtained our rental car on day 4.
Another part of reaching out came to me around this time. My friend and fellow Outlander fan called to tell me she and her husband would be going to Scotland in July with another couple for 10 days and that they had booked with Inverness Tours. She thought I’d be jealous, but I told her about my planned trip too, and we ended up sharing in each other’s excitement. She agreed to help with recommendations after her trip to inform mine, and she even looked at my itinerary to weigh in on its feasibility. I’ll share their circuit and some of her tips in my final post in this series.
Our Scotland Trip
Next is a look at our two-week trip overview and a comparison between the planned and actual itinerary of the first two days. While day 1 turned out quite different from its plan, day 2’s plan came to fruition, except for the Real Mary King’s Close, which was our last major Edinburgh attraction on the 19th. Note the bit about where we dined and what I ate.
And the rest of our itinerary . . .
We flew in overnight on September 15, arriving September 16 late morning in Edinburgh, and used a taxi from the airport to our hotel, the Residence Inn south of Old Town. After sleeping very little on the plane, we snoozed in the restaurant of our hotel waiting for our room to open up, then slept the rest of the afternoon and had a late dinner at Vittoria, which serves up-scale Italian food.
We then used a combination of buses, trains, a tour van, and our unaccustomed feet to explore the hilly, cobbled Edinburgh and surrounding areas over the next three days.
Outlander Tour of 5 filming sites. A 9-hour tour with Slainte Scotland, led by Managing Director of Clyde Coast Tourism Ltd., proud Scot, and Outlander STARZ TV series extra, the lively, lovely, and knowledgeable pro tour guide Catriona Stevenson: Midhope Castle (Lallybroch), Blackness Castle (Fort William), Falkland (1940s Inverness), Doune Castle (Castle Leoch) including whisky tasting, Culross (Crainsmuir and Castle Leoch herb garden).
That evening at the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, we attended a vibrant performance by the Dundee Rep Theatre of the ceilidh-style historical and political play The Cheviot, the Stag, and the Black, Black Oil, which kept us awake even after an all-day tour and with jet lag setting in from the day before. Seeing this play early in the trip provided essential perspective on the past 200 years of Scottish-English relations and politics, which we could then reflect on as we traveled the country.
Sept 18, 19
Edinburgh city tourism, including book sites Palace at Holyroodhouse and walks through Old Town, setting for the printer’s shop and smuggling outfit of A. Malcom, Jamie’s alias in book 3, Voyager. The main focus on these days, though, was catching some of Edinburgh’s major attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, the Writers’ Museum, the Real Mary King’s Close, and Scott Monument on Princes Street—well worth it!
We picked up our car on the evening of September 19, our last night in the capital before heading north to the Trossachs and Argyll early on Tuesday morning.
All-day personalized journey through Argyll & Bute’s vistas and sites of ancient Scots roots and a Gaelic kingdom’s medieval hillfort, with the delightful Àdhamh Ò Broin, Gaelic Language Consultant for the Outlander STARZ show. We hired him for a day of his time to share his love and knowledge of the endangered Dal Riata Gaelic dialect, the wonders of Argyll, the region of his upbringing, and insights into the everyday lives of Scots from the past and today.
We managed to fit in views of island mountains, croft ruins, standing stones, ancient hill fort, cairns, sheep, a few castles and ruins, lochs and hills, bagpipes, singing, cattle, jokes, supernatural stories, local color tales, coffee, lunch, two churches, and a night view over the Kyles of Bute. We even took a close look at a caterpillar (in Àdhamh’s hand on this blog’s recent header image) at the Kilmory Oib Township ruins.
Phew! What a day. By far superior to anything we could have done on our own. As a result, we skipped visiting Inveraray Castle and the Auchindrain Museum village, though we passed by both. The richness of our experiences made those omissions irrelevant.
Sept 21, 28
Combined with unrelated but great attractions in the vicinity, we selected additional Edinburgh-area Outlander options among Glencorse Old Kirk (visited, film), Linlithgow Palace (visited, film), Hopetoun House (skipped, film), and Preston Mill and Phantassie Doocot (skipped, farther east, film). Upon returning to Seabank B&B at the end of day 2 in Argyll, the Trossachs, Stirlingshire, and Midlothian, we encountered our previous day’s guide Àdhamh Ò Broin at the Drover’s Inn, on the north end of Loch Lomond! Well, it is a small country, after all.
Drove through Glen Coe—an absolute must for any first-time visit to Scotland—on our way northward up the Great Glen toward Inverness. Parts of Glen Coe were used for long shots during Outlander‘s credits.
Sept 22, 23
Made sure we passed Loch Ness (book) to and from other adventures, such as our Jacobite Steam Train ride from Fort William (book) to Mallaig on the western coast and back. The train passes and stops at Glenfinnan after crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was used in the filming of Harry Potter. The Glenfinnan Monument is the site where the standard for the Jacobite Rising of 1745 was raised by Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Drove to Loch Rannoch area, Perthshire, sort of hunting for the site of Craigh na Dun‘s filming, surmising also about the location of the Mackenzie rent party’s rides on the way for Jamie to meet Horrocks through the forest near Aviemore, along the way to and from Rannoch Forest, Loch Rannoch, Rannoch Moor, and Kinloch Rannoch. It was actually somewhere on the nearby Dunalastair Estate where the Craigh na Dun set was created and filmed.
Sept 25, 26
Identified Inverness (book)-area Outlander filming and book sites to choose from, visiting the gorgeous Beauly Priory (book), mysterious Clava Cairns, and humbling Culloden Battlefield (book & film), as well as Cawdor Castle (the Macbeth castle), while skipping Loch Garve (book), Falls of Rogie, and Castle Leod (book) in Strathpeffer.
Sept 27, 28
Scouted and targeted Glasgow city centre and metro-area filming sites, including George Square, Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis, Pollok Country Park, and the Outlander studios in nearby Cumbernauld. On our last day of sightseeing, we visited Linlithgow Palace, used to film the exteriors and corridors of Wentworth Prison in the last episodes of series 1, and finished the day at Hampden Park, home of the Scotland National Football Team, of the Celtic Rangers, and of the Scottish Football Museum. We ate a fabulous lunch at The Cotton House, in Longcroft, Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire (http://cotton-house.co.uk/).
Some days fulfilled the carefully assessed, vetted (by recent Scotland traveler friend), and revised plan, but most deviated quite a bit, and some plans were totally replaced. Overall, we managed to meet our priorities, fit in some spontaneity, and get sufficient rest to keep going.
End of the Tourist Season
One thing that really helped us was favorable weather for outdoor activity during the whole first half of the trip, including our day-long Outlander tour on the 17th. A mixture of sun and clouds with highs in the mid 50s to low 60s held strong through most of each day from September 16 to 23. From all I had heard, this was like winning the lottery. Actually, my research showed September to be generally drier than late summer, but we were lucky, too.
Before making final reservations at B&Bs, and for the Outlander and train tours, and before purchasing tickets for the play, I asked my husband whether he would prefer a train trip or a boat ride on Loch Ness. He chose the train. I originally preferred the boat cruise, but a train excursion turned out to be the wiser choice, as it rained the whole day of the 23rd and the train offered shelter and the occasion to nap, which hubby really needed at that point.
We had a rainy afternoon in Perthshire on the 24th while the west coast got hammered (we were lucky to miss the really bad stuff in Mallaig the day before), but we enjoyed a beautiful sun and clouds Culloden visit that morning. Then, the daylight hours of the last two days in the Highlands—25 and 26 in Inverness, Moray Firth coast, Beauly & the Black Isle—were uniformly gorgeous.
Once we got to Glasgow, our last leg of the trip, the rain mixed with the cloudy skies more often, but shelter was easy to come by and most of the 27th was conducive to picture taking at Glasgow Cathedral and around town. Finally, the 28th provided steady light rain throughout our visits to Linlithgow Palace (castle ruins), Outlander studios (front gate), Pollok Park (driving around), and Hampden Park (indoors).
My experience of this trip was so absolutely positive, I don’t hesitate to call it the best trip of my life, and my husband is nearly in agreement on that score. Thorough, careful planning surely played a key role in increasing the chances of such an outcome, but we must also give proper credit to the place, the sights, and the people.
What we might have done differently if we had a do-over
Top changes I would have made to smooth out the schedule, without looking at weather:
Top changes I would have made if I were in better shape, without looking at weather:
Top changes I would have made if we had had more time, without looking at weather:
Top changes I would have made to lighten the luggage load and save time, without re-considering weather:
What you can do
While careful, refined planning can have positive outcomes, as you have gathered by now, it’s no quick or easy process. I had to contact multiple service providers directly, exchanging emails with our tour guide at Glencorse Old Kirk and hosts at Daviot Lodge and Seabank B&B, arranging Alamo/Enterprise car hire (I was more successful at finding good rates than my travel agent was!), and booking the Jacobite Steam Train excursion, our viewing of the Lyceum Theatre play, and our Outlander tour directly from across the pond.
All of this was of course predicated on gaining intimate knowledge of distances and durations of travel between key towns and cities and spatial relationships among sites on our must-see list. I spent countless hours just perusing Google maps, creating personalized travel guides including a chart of distances between cities, and bookmarking and starring favorites toward making this a great trip.
Then, I familiarized myself with money-saving strategies such as purchasing Historic Environment Scotland’s Explorer Pass and National Trust Scotland’s membership to reduce costs at individual sites. In the end, it was cost effective to buy the Explorer Pass but not the NTS one in our particular case. I oriented myself to banking, traffic, and other infrastructural systems, often trying out apps for satnav/GPS, bus systems, and rail networks. I even had my husband program our Garmin Nuvi GPS with Scotland maps, which became indispensable when trying to save mobile data with phone satnav.
Glimpsing all the detail, reading, rehashing, clarification, and direct booking that went into my process should tell you one of a few things about your own planning. It may tell you either that:
You may discover that you couldn’t care less about Scotland itself (or at least cared less than you thought you did) and are only interested in the Outlander attractions, or heaven forbid, vice versa. If so, more power to you, but if you can stomach the stress of it, I recommend splitting your focus between the two.
The good news is that Outlander‘s growing popularity continues to boost Scotland tourism (confirmed by both my own travel agent and Scottish news sources). As a result, more and more travel companies and touring services have added Outlander to their repertoire in one way or another or enhanced the offerings they already had.
Just remember for me in reading this post, the previous ones or the next, that . . .
(Disclaimer) It’s ultimately up to each of you as trip planners to verify details to make your stay go as smoothly as possible, details such as which sites are open to the public (not all are), how, and when, especially if you intend to take the DIY approach for all or part of your trip. I have and will continue to provide some resources to get you started, but information and access can change, and the location property owners and stewards have the final word, so be sure to do your own verifications.
In the next part of this travel guide series, we’ll focus on Outlander tour companies and tour options, along with film locations not covered in my first 3 posts, and bring together all the shared and unshared resources I used and liked. I’ll close with some thoughts on Outlander, Scotland, and general travel.
But wait! There’s more. In future posts, I’ll continue to highlight specific sites visited, services engaged, adventures experienced, and images captured during our trip. Keep coming back to my introductory post “Scotland Ventured, Scotland Gained.” to get the full scope of available bits from just after our trip last fall through the rest of this year.
I hope all this helps you get through Droughtlander, at the very least. Thanks for reading.
This month, in addition to reading, writing and revising poetry, I’ve been learning story craft as a way of participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, April’s more relaxed version of the annual National Novel Writing Month program. (Camp is also held in July.) In this post, I explore some of what I’ve been doing and learning as I ponder the mysteries of motivation.
The more relaxed approach that is Camp NaNoWriMo suits me fine since I’m just now fleshing out my story outline, and with less than a week before the “event” technically ends. I count this as an accomplishment for one who has never considered herself much of a storyteller and who is new to the practice of novel writing.
It certainly helped to have fewer of us participating in write-ins in person and to be a host for some of them each week–more pressure to make progress, I guess.
The pace of completion of this detailed outlining step in particular makes me impressed with myself, mainly because I tend to second-guess the value of the stories I think of telling. By outlining my intentions, I’ve given weight and form to a story that has not even been written yet.
Why should such a small step impress me? Why does being “impressed” matter?
It’s true that November’s NaNoWriMo more thoroughly facilitates the steady, somewhat high-paced push of “writing with reckless abandon” for thirty days straight than do her spring and summer cousin events. Camp is also flexible in terms of content, genre, form, purpose, and word count, whereas November’s goal is always 50,000 words by midnight on December 1.
No one reads the final product you upload for official validation to be classed among the winners. It’s all self driven.
In this way, for me at least, being “impressed” with myself or feeling good about my progress is crucial to furthering it.
My approach to Camp has been to study how stories are formed: brainstorming, researching theories, story structures, tools, and techniques, then outlining, profiling main characters, and then expanding that outline into a full, novel-length set of plot points.
It’s this last step that I was able to start and finish in one four-hour sitting, yesterday during our region’s Sunday write-in at Panera.
Now that I’ve reached this milestone, I am much more excited to move forward with composition of the story itself. I know what story I’m trying to tell, and I know the frame work within which I must work. I even know some of the symbolism, foreshadowing, irony and other literary elements I want to incorporate, and am starting to see exactly how I can accomplish them.
In other words, the fact that Camp NaNoWriMo is ending has less of a subduing effect on me than it has at the end of the last several Novembers. It’s easy to lose steam as the holidays approach, and I felt rather lulled into passivity by the achievement of “winning” NaNoWriMo each time. My stories became less important in themselves, so abandoning them was no great tragedy.
Still, it is a let-down. Some people are “pantsers,” writing by the seat of their pants without much forethought or planning, and certainly no outlining. I have tried that approach and found it unsatisfactory, so this Camp I used as a stepping stone toward becoming a bona fide “planner” of stories (who also happens to write them).
Aided also by regularly blogging and committing to taking my poetry more seriously, I may not even need something like Camp in order to finish this new story. But if I do, July awaits. . . .
I’ve always been better at planning than doing in many ways, so I was reluctant to begin my experience during my first NaNoWriMo in 2011 with too much planning.
Truth be told, I couldn’t help indulging in excessive research on the front end the first year. I found the subject of the Native Americans and particularly the Salish language quite fascinating as I prepared starting in September to write, during November, a story about a white teen raised by ranchers in Montana who comes across a mysterious wolf mask carving on her recently deceased parents’ ranch and begins her adventure. (I wonder what ever happened to that first novel’s protagonist, Emily. Perhaps I’ll return to the text of What the Wolf Knows some day and find out . . . by finishing the story.)
Whichever approach I take, though, I find that it’s practice and experience–and just going for it–that ultimately propel my development as a story writer.
So, although in some ways, my structured approach to a story beginning was rather formulaic, it served as its own kind of “going for it.” I’d never outlined a story so thoroughly before, after all. And it was only after writing a few rough novels, all four of which remain effectively incomplete stories today, that I had the confidence and motivation to teach myself how to plan them well and thoroughly, too.
I’m still in the process of planning the story, but after yesterday, I’m better prepared to write the story I planned. I had already begun some composition of the back story, but now I’m ready to charge ahead to write the main plot.
When you’re not in school formally and you don’t work at, with, or for an organization with a built-in structure for your work, i.e., when you’re a writer out there essentially on your own (albeit with a local support community and the Internet’s bounty), it’s helpful to have events like NaNoWriMo and its Camp cousins to assist with each new aspect of the creative project’s undertaking.
I realize each task can be useful if I know–that is, if I establish for myself–its purpose and see where it can lead me. Because I understand that writing is a multi-part process that is often cyclical in nature, I know that I may alter the plan just as I re-write some of the story.
As I often tell the students I tutor, each phase or step of the writing process holds importance and something to teach, just as each writer has a story inside waiting to be told.
There is hope, then, that eventually I, too, will bring all the pieces together and not only tell but also share my stories.
Every active writer has self-developed approaches, processes, and unique needs to stay motivated and be productive. This has simply been a slice of what mine look like right now.
“Stories matter.” #CampNaNoWriMo2016
This week, from the British comedy classic film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, an irreverent look back at why King Arthur and his knights never celebrated Easter, though they sought the Holy Grail above all else.
WARNING: This post features graphic images of wildlife committing “foul, cruel and bad-tempered” violence with “nasty, big, pointy teeth” against medieval Christian men, and includes text promoting vengeful violence, sanctioned by God and in God’s name, of said Christians against said wildlife. Visitor discretion is advised.
Chapter: “The Holy Hand Grenade”
Problem: The group have followed Tim the Enchanter to a cave the walls of which bear Aramaic runes describing the location of the Holy Grail. But how are King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table to defeat the dreaded, bloody beast–the flying, murderous white rabbit that guards the opening of this, The Cave of Caerbannog?
By following these crucial, sacred steps, of course!
1 (identify the solution): “Yes, of course! The Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.”
2 (find the instructions): “Consult the ‘Book of Armaments.’”
3 (read the Word): “Armaments, Chapter 2, Verses 9 to 21.”
Michel Palin as cleric: “And St. Attila (pron. AT-til-uh) raised the hand grenade up on high saying, O Lord, bless this thy hand grenade, that with it thou mayest blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in Thy mercy. And the Lord did grin and the people did feast upon the lambs and sloths (long o) and carp and anchovies and orangutans and breakfast cereals and fruit bats and large–”
Eric Idle as presiding cleric Brother Maynard: “Skip a bit, Brother.”
Palin: “And the Lord spake saying, First shalt thou take out the holy pin, then shalt thou count to three–no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch towards thy foe, who, being naughty in My sight, shall snuff it. Amen.”
4 (implement the Gospel): Arthur, King of the Britons (Graham Chapman), says, “Right. One, two, five.” – John Cleese as Sir Lancelot: “Three, sir.” – Arthur: “Three!”
5: Lobbest thou thy Holy Hand Grenade.
No, seriously, it must be done! If you don’t believe me, just look at this vicious blood lust!
And for a bonus way of celebrating Easter, visit the official site of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to get 30% off all Killer Rabbits from the UK store.
Text borrowed from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Photos credit: 1974 National Film Trustee Company Limited. Python (Monty) Pictures, Ltd.
As viewed via DVD video 2001 Special Edition from Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment.
As promised, here continues my focus on nature and wildlife poetry that began with Call of the Wild Poetry. See my prewriting for this poem at Raw Poetic Material: Sources and Destinations. In response to my writing group moderator’s assignment to “write a poem about a sea otter” (which I had only partly attempted), I began with a more meandering subject matter focus and less formal stanza structure than you’ll see below, but with similarly short lines.
Step 2 zeroed in on the target subject, and I wrote a longer collection of 6-line stanzas with no end rhyme. The poem at bottom represents the latest (third) iteration, taking what I felt was the best (last stanza) of the intermediate material and building on it. This version employs 4-line stanzas using an ABXB (or ABCB) rhyme scheme. It is still a work in progress.
My revision goals include:
It may seem backwards not to start with the message you want to convey and then seek the words to express it. While I do begin with a concept in mind, my entry into verse writing is more predominantly through its music–the sounds of words, the rhythm of phrases, the frolicking through rhyme and alliteration. For students of poetry and speech, this collection of aspects is called is called prosody.
Sound, sense, and form all must work together for overall poem quality.
Sometimes I emphasize form excessively, spending more time experimenting with line and stanza breaks than is beneficial. Likewise, I tend to obsess over punctuation, probably using too much of it. (This habit comes both from my college poetry instructor’s admonition to “study [verse] punctuation” and from my own pique over comma errors committed by my writing students and others.)
For additional insight into the state of my verse writing process, see the 4-post series beginning with On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation. In that series, I use the writing of an elegy for Leonard Nimoy to illustrate both poem creation and my development as a poet.
I hope you find these descriptions and samples instructive. Happy verse writing and reading!
Watery wiles gild sea waves, yield thick-furred off-white young, black- eyed dark, five fingers. Coats arc down through copper-coated ocean tents with slick black-coffee sheen toward gloaming, up again. Porpoising, then a raft, mother floats belly up, one light pup suckling; now hunts, stones mollusks. Sharp teeth keep urchin counts checked, kelp alive, frond forest sound, safe, for otter sleep, more life.
* Sometimes a writer must face the fact that the chosen form or style may not be what the content calls for, which can mean, e.g., changing a poem into an essay or end-rhymed verse into free verse.
In my last post, this series began about my poetry writing process and how it is evolving. Part I focused on my background and motivation; this post represents a key piece of the evolutionary puzzle. The discussion arose out of my attempt to complete an elegy assignment from a recent, free online course hosted by The Daily Post called Writing 201: Poetry.
Feel free to comment or tweet @Carrielt37.
The Verse Writing Process, Part II: Developing an Idea
Inspiration: Getting It Down and Getting Down to It
It turns out that I am also glad that I waited to tackle, for instance, Day Five’s assignment, an elegy related to fog using metaphor, until after hearing of Leonard Nimoy‘s death. Having such a meaningful, interesting, and personally impassioning subject present itself and align with the purpose of a task with a clear and fitting goal has brought new depth to my process.
A new approach to the writing of a substantial, formal poem has proven fruitful as a result, in the sense of ensuring (I hope) quality, cogency, and justice to the subject, in this case, the departed.
The approach constitutes my first real foray into any significant development of ideas and intentions before applying poetic form to the content. Aided by my determination not to stop writing and thinking until I was satisfied that I had said all that needed saying about Leonard Nimoy and Mr. Spock, I developed not just a poem but also the patience to do it with rich intention and to do it well.
I have yet to learn whether the quality will fulfill its promise or whether this could serve as a formula to perpetuate, but I know with certainty that the experiment signals a new phase in my development as a poet. That realization alone is invigorating and encouraging.
Paradoxically, embracing the idea of development and the need for it has lifted, if just temporarily, the burden of perfectionism, which only ever becomes a block to progress. Patience replaces anxiety, and daily (or every other day’s) attention replaces the impulse do it all in one sitting.
These elements, along with years of experience, in turn have opened the valve to a freer flow of creativity. Faith in my skills and talent bring me to the next station, where I believe that this journey will end in more artful and satisfying results. I am the Little Engine That Could and Can. Although I know it will be difficult, I will do my best to leave judgment of quality and what the results indicate to the reader alone.
With the goals of getting the content right, writing an elegy of some length, and making it a traditional type with rhyming couplets, four-line stanzas and other formal features, here’s what I did to apply The Daily Post‘s fog/elegy/metaphor assignment to create a tribute to Leonard Nimoy. Disclaimer: Remember, I’m not advocating a particular approach or duration of time spent, just sharing my own experimental steps. For the purpose of development, brainstorming through lists played a central role as I focused mainly on ideas first, then form.
I started with a list of words associated with fog that I could write about, which I wrote before Nimoy died.
After I learned of his passing, I made a new list of terms, phrases, ideas, and quotes that I associate with both him and Spock.
Then, I copied the new combination of these two lists to bring together the most relevant concepts and appropriate pairings.
Next, I wrote out lines of concepts and points I knew I wanted to make, seeking the essence of what I feel needs to be said from me personally and as a member of the American populace.
I then researched and read about the Spock “canon” (a little), not having read any Star Trek books myself and harvested quotes on the Imdb.com database from select Star Trek movies.
I drafted a rough, inconsistently metered and lined set of elegiac stanzas toward expressing poetically what would probably be easier said in prose. Patience is key in this phase.
Afterwards, I highlighted the best of the lines, terms, quotes, and concepts to bring myself closer to the crux of what I wanted to focus on.
In between some of these steps, I let things percolate, giving the subject more thought away from my notes. Here comes form. . . .
I started over with a new poem that covered some of the conceptual territory I hadn’t quite hit upon in the first draft, focusing a bit more this time on form and wording.
When I returned to the draft in the next sitting, I transferred it from paper to computer along with all the preceding lists and quotes. In the process, I added more poetic lines.
I printed out the draft alone, without all the notes, and scanned it for lines that were really duds and ideas I decided against or facts that I mistook.
I highlighted parts of the poem that I liked best, that felt most right, and also scanned the lines for meter and rhythm, isolating the parts that flowed more naturally than others.
Upon reviewing the highlighted parts, I added lines for concepts I felt needed more, better, or different coverage or any coverage at all.
With a few semi-intentional gaps between writing/assessing days for my poem, I began to lose some momentum, feeling inadequate to the task of writing an elegy about such a storied public figure and the American icon he created.
Then, I pressed on to soul-search, seeking a way through.
The poem remained a work in progress when I first shared this post.
Phew! Lots of steps, right? So what do you think? Consider the above process and these questions in light of your own work:
? Do the above steps seem excessive or seem to constitute perfectionism?
? Which steps seem most worthwhile? Which ones seem unnecessary? (Keep in mind that the elegy has a particular form with a set of guidelines to follow.) Perhaps some steps work well for some types of poems but not others?
? What steps do you go through and find most fruitful in writing poetry?
? What insights have you learned from other poets’ processes?
Want to know how it turned out? Me too! Tune in for the next post in the series, On Process: Verse Writing, Part III: Home Stretch and Final Draft, which will address the results of the development and drafting process, providing insight into the schedule I followed. Plus, I’ll discuss the journey of revision and reflect upon each phase undertaken so far.
If you’re just joining me and would like to read about how this project began, go to On Process: Verse Writing, Introduction and Part I: Motivation.
I welcome comments and tweets @Carrielt37.