Monday, 25 October 2010

Writing - It's Just Like Climbing Mountains

I began marking a student's assignment yesterday and their first comments were apologising for the delay in sending this latest exercise through. She was surprised at how much work was involved and how long it had taken her to complete it.

Many beginner writers believe that writing is easy. You just pick up a pen and sit down to write. Whilst this IS true, (there's no other way of writing, without actually doing some writing) what they don't realise is that that isn't it! There's a lot of honing and editing to endure before the text is perfect.

True writers are those who understand that writing is like mountain climbing. There are many who set off at the bottom, full of enthusiasm and raring to go. Then the incline gets steeper and suddenly the novelty starts wearing off. Out of puff, many turn around and return to the bottom, having underestimated the challenge ahead. It is the real writers who continue climbing.

A little preparation works wonders. When I climb a mountain, I plan my route in advance. I sit down and consult the map, looking for a suitable route up and and enjoyable route back down. I identify stages where I can stop for breath ... I mean ... stop to take a nice photograph. I try to gauge what time I should be at the summit to ensure I allow enough time to get back.

The same goes for my writing. I plan out roughly what I need to do. Where should I look to find out further information and background material? When is my deadline? Where should I be at each stage of my writing? In my own imagination, the summit of the mountain is the completion of my first draft. Getting the first draft written is always my challenge. Once I've done that, the editing process is all downhill! So, if I have a deadline of two weeks, then I will plan to be at my first draft summit by the end of week one.

Viewpoint 1
It's imperative that you plan these 'photographic breaks' on your climb. When climbing mountains, the view changes with every step you make. At the end of the day, or your writing time, stop and look back over what you've just written. Perhaps the path was harder going than it looked. But there's nothing to worry about now. You wouldn't drop back down a mountain at this stage and look for an easier path up, would you? You're here now. The next stage, is a new day, so look forward to the next viewpoint. How are you going to get there? Jot down a few simple notes to remind yourself when you're next back at your writing desk.

Viewpoint 2
At the end of your next day's writing time, stop and take another look at the view. Refreshed from your break at Viewpoint 1, you'll find it easier to get going again on the next stage, if you're clear about where you're heading. Mountain paths have a habit of getting steeper as you draw towards the summit, especially if it turns out to be a false summit. But no matter how many false summits I encounter on my climb, the fact remains - I am higher than I was before. As I progress to each viewpoint in my writing, I know that I'm further in my journey. I might wish I was at the top now, when I'm not, but I know the summit is closer than it was two days ago!

Viewpoint 3
As you near the summit, you get a better overall picture of what lies beneath you. You see the bigger picture now. It's tempting to start planning your descent, or the changes to your text now, because you can see it better from this viewpoint. But don't. You don't start descending, until you've reached the top. By all means, make a note of any changes to the path back down that you'd like to make, but don't make them now - now is the time for that final burst to the summit.

Summit - Hooray!
 First things first, have a break and enjoy the view! You've achieved the toughest part. Creating something new can be daunting, but the sense of achievement when you've created it is overwhelming! Remind yourself as you look back over your text, that back down at the bottom, none of this had happened. You've made it happen.

Enjoy the moment and share your news. Walkers share their experiences too at summits. Watch out for that nasty patch of stinging nettles by the third stile - they pounce when your back is turned! Tell other writers about finishing your first draft, and the view you can see now. They may offer you some helpful suggestions for your editing route back down to basecamp.

Then remind yourself of your route down. Do you need to make any changes to your path? Is there an easier track you can take? Can you take the path you planned or are you tight for time now? With some writing projects, deadlines can change as quickly as the weather turns on a mountain. Sometimes, it's necessary to get back down quickly, but you should always do so safely, don't take risks. Taking a short cut with the editing process can be risky.

Back at Basecamp
When you finally return to basecamp, you'll feel another sense of achievement. It's finished. You did it! Walker's celebrate a mountain climb with some completely unhealthy rewards - a drink in the pub, some fast food (well, faster than the climb up) or an entire packet of chocolate hobnobs. But that's okay, because they've worked hard for it. And writers who finish writing and editing their work should reward themselves too. It's what motivates us for tomorrow's mountain.

basecamp next week end, I'll be able to look back over this week and see what I've achieved. And because I've planned my route out beforehand, I know which summit I'm conquering this week.

Good luck.


  1. Yep, it's a problem when you want to 'have climbed' rather than 'climb'. But that isn't insurmountable: but you do have to learn to love the process, or at least aspects of the process, and not just the reward at the end.


  2. Simon, I agree. New students gaze at me in disbelief (and dismay) when I start talking about 'drafts', 'editing' and 'hard work'! I don't want to put them off but if they're not prepared to graft on their draft, or if they want to shirk the work - well, they'll never make it as a writer!

  3. Walker's shouldn't celebrate too soon at basecamp, even at the week end.

    Proofing the work needs to be done with a clear head - definitely not after a visit to that pub!

  4. Inspiring as always Simon.
    I'm just realising what a lot of hard work this writing lark is, and I don't even do it for a living.
    Some days I think 'sod it' as I look at the overgrown garden and the heap of washing.
    But then, something calls (or yodels) to me and I'm back at the laptop having another go.
    Oh well.

  5. What a great analogy. And an inspiring post.

  6. Yes I agree with all the commenters and especially Helen - a great analogy. Especially appreciated by me (I am a walker) and try to be a writer. Onwards and upwards! PS If you do like walking you must read Simon's Bluffers Guide to Hiking (you are also allowed to read it if you are not one as well)