How to Get Lost in the Woods and Write Your Way OutPart writing memoir, part nature memoir, and part meditation on a life well lived
When you stray from a trail and strike out into the woods, you are bushwhacking. The term implies a physical thrashing about—pushing past branches, slicing through thickets, leaping across downed trees—but it also implies a certain fortitude and resilience to seek places unknown. In Bushwhacking, Jennifer McGaha borrows the ...
- Published: February 2023
- Published: February 2023
When you stray from a trail and strike out into the woods, you are bushwhacking. The term implies a physical thrashing about—pushing past branches, slicing through thickets, leaping across downed trees—but it also implies a certain fortitude and resilience to seek places unknown. In Bushwhacking, Jennifer McGaha borrows the term, likening it to what writers do when faced with the equally daunting blank page. Exploring the wilderness of your inner life means leaving a relatively comfortable place and going where no path exists. Writers face similar, unknown obstacles when forging a route to a final draft.
Part writing memoir, part nature memoir, and part meditation on a life well lived, Bushwhacking draws on McGaha’s experiences running, hiking, biking, paddling, and getting lost across the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina to offer readers encouragement and practical suggestions to accompany them on their writing and life journeys. Each essay links one of McGaha’s forays into the wilderness to an insight about the creative process. An almost-failed attempt at zip lining becomes a lesson on getting out of one’s comfort zone. The thrum of a hummingbird’s wings, an autumn sunset, and a hound dog’s bay at a bear on the path are impromptu master classes in finding inspiration in the small, the ordinary, and the unexpected.
With humility, humor, and hard-won wisdom, Bushwhacking honors writing craft traditions and offers fresh insights into how close communion with nature can transform your writing and your life.
Praise for Bushwhacking
“In Bushwhacking, Jennifer McGaha makes a very convincing argument that in order to understand the unknown, writers must get up from the desk, go outside, and step into it. She beautifully and effectively braids her life as a writer, hiker, reader, and civic-minded citizen into an approach to seeing and understanding the world that will serve all readers, whether they’re looking to understand the story in their hearts or the story of the world around them.” — Wiley Cash, author of When Ghosts Come Home
“Bushwhacking is rich with the smell of mountain laurel, the musky stink of a menacing bear, the splendor of a Blue Ridge sunset, and, in equal part, with keen wisdom and practical writing advice. We set out into the wilderness each time we sit down to start a story or poem, and in both writing and nature, the beauty is often found not in where we thought we were heading but in where we find ourselves instead.” — Dinty W. Moore, author of The Mindful Writer: Noble Truths of the Writing Life
“This wondrous book focuses on the importance of writing, the necessity of using words to connect us to our world—especially the natural world. In the face of Trumpism and COVID, McGaha finds genuine optimism in using language to commune with trails and swales, with ziplines, dogs, and mountain bikes. ‘Of course, your words are inadequate, these ethereal voices tell me. Words are always inadequate. Write them anyway,’ McGaha says. Between giving up and writing, she shows that the only authentic choice is to write—as she herself does—beautifully, fearlessly, absorbing the world around you.” — Sue William Silverman, author of How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences
“Bushwacking combines sensible writing advice with vivid outdoor adventures. McGaha’s sensory details—the itch of chigger bites, the fright caused by a rattlesnake—show us that persistence is key when writing (i.e., revising) a life.” — Natasha Sajé, author of Terroir: Love, Out of Place
“Bushwhacking is a fierce, honest, and inspiring exploration of the inextricable connection between how we write and how we live our lives. McGaha offers us no prescriptions and no easy answers. Instead, she helps us shape the necessary questions as we enter the daunting woods of our work, making Bushwhacking the perfect book to get lost with.” — Tommy Hays, author of The Pleasure Was Mine
Praise for Flat Broke with Two Goats
"An enjoyable back-to-the land memoir. " — Library Journal
"An easy read with a warm tone, like hearing from an old friend, McGaha's memoir is touching, funny, and hard to put down." — Booklist
"Flat Broke with Two Goats is a funny, moving and unflinchingly honest reckoning. Reduced by desperate circumstances, Jennifer and her husband find themselves living a life that echoes the hardscrabble Appalachian ways of their grandparents. This sweet miracle of a memoir tells the story of a struggling couple who have to lose their house, and just about everything else, to find home." — Tommy Hays, author of The Pleasure Was Mine
"You'll be alarmed, breathless, and ultimately charmed by Flat Broke with Two Goats because yes, it could happen to you..." — Terri Schlichenmeyer, Bookworm Sez
"Flat Broke with Two Goats is a brave book written in beautifully unflinching detail. McGaha lays bare the flaws in her marriage, the poor choices that led them to rock bottom and how they found their way to a new definition of home." — BookPage