How can you adapt your writing to changing conditions?

On our recent multi-day backpacking trip in the Olympic Peninsula, we had to revise our plan. We’d carefully plotted our campsites before leaving home, but the temperatures were too hot (climate crisis) to allow for super-long hiking days, so we changed our destinations while on foot. Our trip didn’t suffer as a result of the changes; it became more possible and enjoyable.

When I set out to write my book, Tracking Giants (coming in spring 2023), I envisioned writing a book that would be similar to The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant, a brilliant sociohistorical look at deforestation in the Pacific Northwest. But once I began writing, I realized that I didn’t want to write that book. My own first-hand research, which consisted of seeing the biggest trees in British Columbia, was taking up most of my time. I was too busy trip planning and writing to spend days in the library. Besides, The Golden Spruce already exists, and it is a near-perfect book.

When the pandemic started, I had to change my trip plans, which further changed the trajectory of my book—no longer able to visit the biggest trees in the province, I looked for smaller but no less impressive trees closer to home.

The biggest change came when I allowed inspiration to strike. While painting a couple of deck chairs last summer, I listened to Seth Rogen’s memoir, Yearbook, and realized I wanted my book to have a similar funny, irreverent tone. That’s the type of book I like to read, and I am irreverent—it made sense that my book would reflect that outlook. Rogen and I grew up in the same place, Vancouver, so there was a sense of homecoming while listening to it. Would people be interested in reading about the convenience stores and ravines of the Lower Mainland? Sure they would!

I released myself from the pressure of writing a “serious tree book” and allowed myself to write the tree book that didn’t yet exist. I wrote my “weird tree book” for those who couldn’t read another book about deforestation and climate change, but who wanted to revel in the majesty of big trees.

How have you changed direction in the course of your writing? What happened when you allowed inspiration to steer you in the midst of your project?

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