Waldeinsamkeit–In Which We Discuss Finding Peace in the Woods

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I recently discovered a fascinating German word–“Waldeinsamkeit.”  There is not a direct English translation, but generally speaking, it means the peaceful feeling of finding solitude in the woods.  Isn’t it fascinating how we can tell those things which are now or once were valued by a culture based on which things they needed to find words for?  The German people obviously valued their solitude in the woods, as do I.

Looking at that word, I was immediately reminded of the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  Published in 1854, Walden chronicles Thoreau’s experiences over the course of two years, two months, and two days in a cabin he built near Walden Pond amidst the part of the forest area owned by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson, near Concord, Massachusetts.

I’ve often thought, as Thoreau did, that there must be something magical in the waters of Walden Pond, formed centuries ago by receding glaciers.  There were too many great writers and thinkers in the near vicinity for it to have been a coincidence.  When I was young, I contemplated going there and bringing away with me a vile of the water, which I would keep with me to spark genius in my own writing.  But was it really the water or was it the peace in the solitude of the surrounding woods which sparked genius?

By immersing himself in nature, Thoreau hoped to gain as understanding of society through personal introspection.  He also aspired to live simply and self-sufficiently, inspired by his transcendental philosophy.  (Although, let’s be honest that the self-sufficiency is somewhat skewed based on the fact that he was living on his friend’s land.)

As Thoreau himself said, he “went to the woods because [he] wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if [he] could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when [he] came to die, discover that [he] had not lived.”  He wanted to “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”  Don’t we all?

I wonder if Thoreau knew this word “waldeinsamkeit” when he went into the woods looking for that very feeling.  I wonder if that’s where Walden pond originally derived its name.  We all look for solitude in our own ways.  Most of us don’t have generous transcendental friends with woodland to lend to us for our solitude.  Many of us live and work in the fast paced cities and technological world around us.  I sometimes long for the quiet and peace of pre-digital days when you could go outside to commune with nature in peace and quiet.

I, for one, have my pond and park where I often go in the spring, summer, and fall to recharge.  I seek my clarity and silence there.  I seem to resonate with the energy of the trees and wildlife around me.  During these dark and gray winter months, I find myself longing for “waldeinsamkeit,” for the peace I can only find in nature and the woods.  My pen feels frozen, and I have to work harder to find inspiration for my writing.

I understand Thoreau, Emerson, Alcott and other transcendentalists (even Emily Dickinson–yes, she was a transcendentalist, but that’s an argument for another day.)  Our lungs ache for the green air.  Our eyes ache for the vibrant colors.  And our ears ache for the silence yet alive with forest sounds.  There is some kind of inspiring life which can only be found in nature.  I know I will get back to nature and my personal Walden again, but spring feels so terribly far away.

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The Sweet Spot

There’s a bay of windows on the north side of the library where my office is.  It’s one of my happy places.  Every afternoon, I take a walk through the stacks to stretch my legs, then go to the windows to soak in the beauty and recharge.  I think it’s important for every writer (and probably every person) to have a place (or multiple places) they can go to recharge.  Nature does it for me.  Everyone has to find what works for them.

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Editing

Throughout my time pursuing a creative writing degree, I read many books about the writing and publishing processes.  But recently, I felt like it was time for a refresher course.  So, I began reading Publishing 101 by Jane Friedman.  This is an excellent book for any aspiring author.  It’s easy to read, quick, and practical.  I’ve come away with a list of achievable goals after reading this book.

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One thing I’ve realized from reading this book is that my manuscript is too long.  Although I’ve been editing it over the last few months, I didn’t have a clear idea of what needed to go.  After achieving some objective distance that only time can bring, and realizing that the length of the manuscript may be keeping me from finding a good agent, I’ve decided to get drastic with my work.

My goal is to reduce it by at least 20,000 words, making it more marketable and salable.  First thing to go will be a side character who doesn’t significantly alter the trajectory of the story.  Although I was fond of her, my emotions about my characters are not important here.  Next thing to go is a literary, magical realism, flight of fancy I indulged in.  I loved the metaphor and the spiritualism it achieved.  But yet again, not crucial to the story, so it has to go.

It should be stated that I’ll be keeping everything I cut out.  They could either be turned into short stories, or perhaps put back into the manuscript at a later time in truncated form.  As writers, it’s our job to find the sweet spot between saying all we need to say, giving our characters the freedom to tell us their own stories, and overwriting a story.  We have to be brutally honest with ourselves about our work and whether or not we’re reaching that sweet spot.  My advice to myself is to turn off the censor or the editor in me while I’m in the writing process.  But while I’m in the editing process, I sometimes have to be ruthless with myself.  Again, it’s about finding balance.

Learning About Language

Even after years and years of studying literature and the English language, I still have so much to learn about it.  It’s funny to me when I find out or realize things I didn’t know before.  Sometimes it’s about colloquialisms.

You see, as a Southerner living in the American West, my “Southernisms” or Southern colloquialisms are often pointed out to me.  After living in Utah for over a decade, I thought I’d heard them all,  and sadly, I’ve even lost some of them.

But the other day, I was talking to my boss, and I said something about being grateful that I don’t currently have a car note.  She looked at me a little confused until she figured out from context clues what I was talking about.  I had no idea that paying a “car note” was a Southernism.  Apparently other parts of the country don’t use this term.  Instead they say something along the lines of paying a car loan.  Whenever, I figure out one of my Southernisms, I usually try to hang onto them or file them away for later use in a story.  I’m sad that I’ve lost some of the language that made me unique in my part of the world.

As writers, we have to always be listening and picking up on these regional phrases and ways of speaking.  It’s part of the reason why I believe travel is so important to a writer.  To be able to interact with and listen to people from different parts of the country and different parts of the world can be invaluable fodder for later stories.  So, get out there, interact, listen, and just be aware of the wealth of language all around you.