The Making of a Map

The story of this map is not unlike the story of The Book. It started as an idea, one inspired by the wild places I frequent in the Greater Yellowstone edging up to my backdoor. 

Middle Cottonwood in Fall 2.jpg

It began with wondering what life would be like fully immersed in the natural world. To not simply be a weekend warrior in the peaks, or a lunchtime wanderer along snow-fed streams, but to truly live as an inhabitant. 

So in my imagination, I built a cabin in a narrow stretch of valley between towers of risen earth. In the cabin I placed a character. She lives alone. She lives sustained off the land. And she lives for a dream that will be destroyed within a single night. 

Galen's cabin.jpg

But this isn't about a character, unless you consider place a character, which I very much do. This is about the map, and how I began with a reconfiguration of the Greater Yellowstone.

I drew from reality for fiction--a practice not the least bit unique to my process. I spread real-world maps on the floor and discovered creeks and buttes and canyons with names promising mystery. I then literally drew a rough sketch of a map for my book. 

Crazy mtn map rough draft.jpg

The rough sketch became a more detailed creature, growing into color and contour. 

Crazy Mountains map watercolor orginial -1.jpg

This map was the entirety of the world in The Book's first life. Yes, manuscripts have multiple lives, or at least for many writers this seems to be the case. When the first draft of The Book came to fruition, the enormity of my task was only then revealed. I had written but half The Book I was intended to write. And I had only drafted but one thin sliver of the world The Book now runs wild within. 

The crazy-making thing about writing a book, or any other giant creative pursuit--like building a boat or a home or a family--is the slow reveal.

Map beginning stages.jpg

I began with an idea, it morphed into a rough sketch, and then, one day, I found myself closer to the finished project, or what I think, (hope!), to be the finished project: 

Crazy mtns map white borders.jpg
Key to map-1.jpg

But it's only crazy-making if we lose all flexibility. Had I held onto the first map's draft and not allowed it to be something different, to morph and shift in conversation with the larger creative process, I would have confined myself to a product that lacked the depth and vitality of The Book as it now stands.

The slow reveal reminds me how we should try our best not to rush our work. There's a delicate dance between motivation and deadlines, necessity and perfection, and I continue to strive for my groove. But if this map has taught me anything about the work, it's that creativity best functions when it's allow to be its feral self.