Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Writing is Like Rock-Climbing

A few weeks ago, I went rock-climbing for the first time. I am a tad scared of heights, so I was nervous as I gazed up at the rock-climbing walls around the gym. I slipped on the harness and learned the basics of belaying. When it was my turn to climb, nerves made my legs shaky. But I hoisted myself up onto the wall, and made it to the top. What elation! I was hooked.

In many ways, rock-climbing reminded me a lot of writing. Here are some things writers could learn from climbers:

1. For me, the first step up onto the wall was the hardest. I had to force myself onward. But once I did, it wasn't so bad. The same goes for writing. Often getting started is the hardest part. Force yourself to close out your email, open up that Word document, place your fingers on the keyboard, and just start writing.

2. Don't let the size of your project intimidate you; focus on one step at the time. The first wall I climbed, I didn't make it all the way to the top. A little more than half-way up, my arm muscles already burning, I made the mistake of looking up at how much farther I had to go. I felt I had gone so far already -- yet there was still such a long ways to climb! I defeated myself. Similarly, if I think about the entirety of the novel I am working on, I quickly feel overwhelmed. "Another 200 pages?" I'll think. "There's no way I can do it!" Instead, I focus on writing three pages a day. I have an idea of the novel's broader scope, but I don't let myself worry about the immensity of the task I've undertaken. On a single day, if I write my three pages, I'm good to go. Three pages, three pages, three pages. Little by little, they add up into a book.

3. When rock-climbing, you're strapped into a harness, and someone below is your belayer, whose job is to make sure you don't fall. Trust is essential. As a writer, it's crucial to have a trusted group of readers who give you honest feedback on your work. And it's equally important to have a support system of people you can count on to cheer you on and buoy you up -- because everyone slips and falls sometimes. The important thing is to brush yourself off and attack that wall again.

4. Venture beyond your self-imposed limits. With my fear of heights, I never thought I would be someone who liked rock-climbing -- but if I had let my fear stop me, I would have missed out on a really fun experience! Pushing yourself is how you grow, both as a person and as a writer. Challenge yourself to write about something that scares you. Write something that makes you uncomfortable. Write something raw and real. Refuse to confine or label yourself.

5. Enjoy the journey. For me, the most rewarding part of climbing was not when I reached the top, but rather the actual act of stretching for new holds, feeling my muscles strain as I pushed myself to climb higher and higher up the wall. Now, I try more than ever to savor the act of writing. Losing myself in a story, spending hours exploring the crevices of my imagination, spilling my thoughts and emotions onto the page, and then being able to share what I've written with others -- what a gift!

Best wishes on all your writing and climbing journeys! 

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