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.”

One sentence at a time

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Shaking off the shackles of writer’s block (as any writer knows) is not easy, but I’ve learned that anything worth doing is rarely as easy as it seems when you start out. Occasionally, just starting out is the difficult part.

I decided to use the strategy my own coach, Scott Lewis, taught me when I first complained to him that I wanted to write–knew I could write–if only I knew how to get myself to do it. He asked me to commit to two minutes of writing a day and report back to him the following week.

Two minutes of writing a day? “Are you kidding?” I thought. “Anyone can do that!” I took the challenge. The first night I stared at the computer blankly. What to write? Being one of those people who takes her commitments very seriously, I looked around my room and decided whatever my eye landed on at the moment would be good enough to morph into the opening, and probably closing, sentence. (After all, two minutes isn’t much time to write more than a couple of sentences.) From the second night, I was writing for 10 minutes, and after that, I was pounding the keyboard in oblivion for two hours, not two minutes, a night.

I wrote my way out of my block the last couple of days by just sitting down and writing the next sentence, and then another. I figured if I didn’t like the direction it went, I’d be revising it sooner or later anyway.

It worked. That and a little help from some tunes of my favorite divas of ’80s dance music–Tina Turner and The Pointer Sisters. Why not? I left my plucky boomer protagonist, Chicken Cacciatore, in a quandry about pole dancing in public. All she really needed was some inspiration!

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!

Pushing words up the anthill

Monday, December 1st, 2008

After writing for 28 days, at least 3 hours every day, I am wrung out, but thrilled to have created a novel out of thin air.

As I think back over the story I see how each of the plot lines and characters contain elements of myself. All of the issues I’ve tackled are fragments of thoughts that have been busy little ants building hills for years in my head. Like the football-sized anthills forming a path across the dry lake bed I pass on my daily walks, these themes teeming with my own thoughts arrange themselves like giant footprints across the pages I have just written.

Once I sit down to read, analyze and ultimately revise my 52,000+ words, I will be looking at each anthill under a microscope, looking for the trails and the tunnels my thoughts have created and then followed line by line, paragraph by paragraph and page by page until the final words, The End.

My mind, like a community of industrious ants, has gathered and sorted and built from tiny grains of sand, and like those itty-bitty, but productive ants, I know now that I can start with the smallest idea, just a word really, and create a structure with purpose and direction.