Sunday, May 6, 2007

Climbing the Tower

This picture is a metaphor for writing.

Right, you say. How?

Very good question.

This is the Alpine Tower. It’s in North Carolina, not far from Asheville. (Beautiful place. I might want to live there someday.)

A little over a week ago, I spent a week in N.C. with 200 8th graders, a handful of high school juniors, and 15 other adults. Our first morning there, we hiked a mile to get to this lovely structure.

“This 50 foot tower is what we’re going to climb this morning,” a very strong, outdoorsy-looking counselor said.

Being a beginning writer is kind of like looking at this in a picture – like you’re doing now – and saying, “Ok, yeah, I can do it.” But, then you get there in person (you’ve now started your novel and have seen it’s a little more challenging than you first thought), and you think, “Holy shit. What have I gotten myself into?”

However, you go ahead and strap on a completely uncomfortable and unflattering harness and hook up to a tiny waif of a girl that promises, “I’ve got you. I won’t let you fall.”

Yeah, right.

This portion of the harrowing journey is analogous to realizing that although writing is a solitary experience, you can not do it alone. You need writing buddies, a crit group, support. If you are like most, these will be new people in your life – not long time friends. You have to learn to trust them. Now, when my AotP friends say, “I’ll help you. I won’t let you fall,” I KNOW I can trust them. But, at the beginning, you just have to climb and hope.

Nevertheless, you walk to the base of the structure and say, “Belay on,” and you climb. The first part isn’t too bad, but you get to a point (usually in the middle) where you have to stop and think about how you’re going to get out of the predicament in which you’ve landed. You try a lot of hand-holds. You turn around and around eyeing all the ways that won’t work – you know they won't work because you’ve tried them all (twice). You think, “There aren’t any other ways. I fail. Can I come down now?”
But then, you look up. People are above you, having gotten through the middle (so it can be done). There are even people standing on the top platform. They scream, “I did it. I did it,” and they call out thanks to that tiny girl holding the other end of the rope because she really didn’t let them fall. You look down, too, and it’s dizzying. How did you get this far already? Surely, you can’t quit now. This, too, can be overcome.

(Do I really need to explain that analogy? Yep, the people on top are writers with finished novels, and yep, they climbed up just like you did – sometimes taking a path very similar to yours, sometimes a very different one. However, the truth remains, the only way to get to the top is to suck it up and climb.)

You tentatively pick a path, not sure you can do it. I mean, didn’t you try ALL of these before and say it was impossible? And yet, you move. You’re a climber (a writer) so you have no choice.
That waify little girl offers suggestions. "Look up. Can you reach that rope? Can you balance on one foot and grab it? Can you hang on with one arm and reach with the other. Remember, I've got you." And she does. And you can. AND YOU GET PAST THE DREADED MIDDLE. (And that waify girl -- well, she's amazing. You'll definitely be returning the favor. It's amazing what she could see from her angle that you couldn't in the thick of things.)

You keep going. The top is in site. Even when you climb all the way up, you aren’t done. (The book is finished here, but, uh, not polished. Are you reading this Alyson?) Now you look up to a solid, impenetrable wooden floor, and you’re under it. (This sucks, btw.) You have to make your way to the edge (revisions – don’t fall now). Then, you have to sling one arm over that edge and pull yourself up. This is hard. You’re tired. Your muscles ache. You're bleeding from scratches you didn’t realize you’d received.

But, you heave one last time. And you’re there! You’re on all fours, huffing and puffing and laughing and crying, but you did it. YOU DID IT!!!

You push yourself up and stand, arms thrown up into the air -- a sign of extraordinary victory. Then, it's off the top, repelling down, basking in the glory of the cheers of your peers and fans and supporters. It’s cool. You did it. You can’t get over it. Wow!

When you belay off, you rest briefly and look around. You think, "Let’s try that again, but not the same path. That would be boring." Look. That area over there has some ropes to climb on it. See, there’s the path I could take. I don’t think it will be so much trouble next time.

Is it? I don’t know. But, I’m willing to climb again and again. Are you?



Alyson Love said...

Oh, this is AWESOME! Great description of an awesome experience for you , and a very apropos analogy. I love it -- and yeah, I read the part about the last climb onto the platform. Thanks for the post. I feel like climbing a tower to prove it can be done. Very inspirational. and photos really look good, don't they? I really have to start taking and uploading photos :)