A peak a week

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

I live in a region of the country where outdoor recreational activities abound. Last night I overheard a couple of young men standing behind me at an open-air concert discussing their hiking plans for the summer. Not wanting to turn around and stare, I could just imagine two strapping, healthy youths sporting robust backpacks and hiking boots. One was telling the other, “It’s my plan to hike one new peak every weekend.” He began mentioning the names of various local mountains. I could just imagine the breathtaking vistas to which he would treat himself along the way.

Even in my younger years I was not a mountain goat, so scaling peaks is not in my game plan. Negotiating the cable car hills of San Francisco when I lived there a few years ago was a good enough challenge at sea level.  I am still proud to say I succeeded at climbing some hill or other each week when I belonged to a city hiking group. I still do a 3-mile walk occasionally, up and down the hills of my current neighborhood nestled in the Sierra Nevadas.

These days my real challenges are more sedate, but nonetheless steep. The hills and valleys of writing a novel keep me fretting over whether I “can make it.” When the terrain gets a bit rugged and I can’t catch my breath, I sometimes stop to rest and to consider my next step carefully.  Turning back before I reach the pinnacle, however, is seldom an option. I know it’s too beautiful to miss the view at every milestone of the climb, and if the interim vistas are this good, I can’t wait to see the view from the top.

I’m glad I overheard that hiker’s declaration last night. It encouraged me, too, to set my goals “a peak a week.”

Writers’ Block, or Fear?

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

It was destined to happen sooner or later, that dreaded affliction of every writer–block!

Here I was, steaming along at a locomotive clip when I slowed down to see the track ahead better and eventually slammed on the brakes. Now I’m sitting on the rails reluctant to stoke the engine fire for fear (yes, there’s that word again–a definite clue to the problem) of what might be lurking up ahead and around the bend.

My protagonist is in a pickle–well, not literally, although being a wacky story that is a possibility–and my imagination has not yet found her a way out, but that’s not what I’m afraid of.

What I’m afraid of is not finding her the perfect and most hilarious resolution. I can’t be content to just chug along, continuing to make progress. I have to camp overnight in the middle of writer’s block land and lose faith in my ability to spin this yarn altogether.

It’s a trick my mind is playing out. Like my protagonist, Chicken Cacciatore, I’m thwarted by menacing forces that are, in reality, my own inner obstacles, and like my “plucky” protagonist I have to just keep going with the flow, seeing where it takes me and making the most of where I end up.

I can’t wait to see what happens next, whatever it is!

Yes, I can do this!

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I am writing Chapter 8 of my 30-day novel and wondering why I haven’t written a word of dialogue yet. Being an essayist and poet, I don’t have much occasion to write dialogue, so I consult one of several books with which I’ve surrounded myself in the past couple of weeks to “teach” me how to write a novel. Remember, I’ve never attempted to write a novel before. I’ve read plenty of them in the past 50 years, particularly in the genre I’m trying to write, but I’ve never thought I could pull off the feat of writing one myself.

So now I’m drowning in self-doubts. Maybe I can’t (I know, I HATE that word, but it keeps creeping up on me) write dialogue. I need immediate remedial dialogue-writing help. I don’t have any novels I’m currently reading and I’m in temporary quarters so my library of favorites is on the other side of the country. I don’t have TIME to read anything right now, anyway. What to do?

There is only one thing to do. Just write it. And so, finally reaching a point in the narrative where I feel comfortable putting two characters in a place where they might actually speak to one another, I am forcing myself to write dialogue…by the seat of my pants.

And guess what? I CAN DO THIS THING! I can write dialogue, and it’s not pointless. It moves the scene and gives additional dimension to the characters and showcases their emotional state and their relationship…and…and…

I’m exhausted. I’m flying. I’m sailing down the hill on a sled or a two-wheeler for the first time. I’m walking on two feet instead of crawling on hands and knees. I’m doing it instinctively.

Surprise! I guess I’ve been able to do it all along. All I had to do was start.