Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Uphill Struggle

Writing the first draft of a novel can be an uphill struggle, very much like climbing a mountain. Recently, while I’ve been writing my blogs for the A-Z Challenge, on the topic of my beloved Lake District, I’ve been reminded of my walking and climbing experiences there in the past, and it dawned on me that writing is similar to climbing a mountain in many ways.

I’d like to say that the secret is planning in advance. You know the kind of thing – correct clothing for the weather, comfortable boots, basic supplies (water bottle, bar of chocolate etc.) and of course, maps, compass and whistle, plus, in this day and age cell phone, probably with GPS. Oh, and don’t forget to let someone know where you’re going- just in case!

Maybe that’s like writing: the correct clothing, boots and basic supplies are equivalent to one’s basic knowledge of the technicalities like grammar, spelling and punctuation. Then we come to the map – studying it advance, plotting your route, making sure it’s neatly folded in a waterproof packet in case it rains.

Did you catch the word plotting? As a self-confessed pantser, I don’t study the ‘route’ in advance, I simply have a vague idea where I’m going. Would planning my route in advance make that uphill climb any easier, or any less steep? Maybe it would lessen the times I have to stop and say ‘oops, taken the wrong path here’ and go back a little to find the right path. At the same time, I’d maintain that, for me anyway, detailed plotting would stop me from finding that hidden copse of wild flowers or that beautiful mountain stream – all the extra ‘discoveries’ you make when you let your characters lead you into unexpected scenes or events in their lives.

So, you’re all ready and you set off, full of enthusiasm. This is something YOU want to do. Not because someone else says you should, not because you want to do it ‘better’ than someone else, not because you want to gain some kudos or fame, but simply because that mountain’s there and YOU want to get to the top.

It might seem easy to start with –a gentle climb on grassy slopes, but what happens when the going gets tougher? When you’re puffing and panting with every step as you tackle a steep part of the climb, strewn with rocks and boulders that you have to find your way through? When you lose sight of the top of the mountain and think you’re never ever going to reach it? When you reach a seemingly insurmountable rock blocking your way? When the mist comes down and you can’t see anything ahead of you?

I’m sure we’ve all been there with our stories. So what do we do? Give up and trail back down the mountain, either in anger or depression or resignation, muttering ‘I knew I’d never be able to do it’? Or take a breather, look at how far we’ve come already, and convince ourselves that we’re not going to be beaten and saying, “I’ve come this far, and I CAN get to the top.”

Yes, it’s an uphill struggle – but perseverance and determination eventually pays off. You reach the top, type ‘The End’ and take time to look around you at the wonderful view. You did it!

But of course it isn’t the end. You still have the return journey to do. This is the editing part. Some people find this process even harder than writing the first draft. I’m the opposite. For me it’s a wonderful walk, run, even a slide down the grass on my backside, shouting, “Wheeee, I’m nearly there!”

And finally, there’s that pub in the valley where you can raise your glass and proudly say, “I did it.”


  1. What a great comparison, Paula. I'd just throw out that when a plotter discovers an unmarked detail or plot twist along the way, she can change the route, just like any adventurer. Some may follow a rigid, unbending itinerary, but I suspect most don't. But every writer has his and her own creative method. A well-told story has the plot twists, like black moment, in the right place. That's all that matters. Not how you got them there.

  2. The more I think about this comparison with climbing a mountain, the more similarities I seem to see! And maybe sometimes it's better to deviate from the well-wron path that others have followed and find your own route, as you say!

  3. Great analogy, Paula - and lots to consider!

  4. Great comparison. Now I can think of myself just taking a rest on some crag. only problem is, I seem to have set up camp there. You're so right, similarities aplenty

  5. Thanks, Rosemary!

    Hi Anne - know the feeling! I've just had to go back down a path (for 6 chapters!) to find the right path to use!

  6. This is all very well Paula... but what about the people like me that would never...ever...under pain of death climb a mountain, jump out of a plane or dive in deep water.

    I'm of the firm opinion that had God wanted us to do such abnormal things we would have been born with wings, lungs that didn't need oxygen or gills!!!

    I'm verging on paranoiac about such things.

    But I do lots of exploring and walking as long as there's no mountains involved so the similarities are not lost on me.

    A great post and I have to confess that I prefer the paths less travelled.

  7. Shirley, I didn't do rock-climbing or anything scary like that! Just a few fairly small mountains which didn't require oxygen cylinders. But okay, you can do the walk at lower level if you like! And yes, the paths less travelled can be the most interesting ones!

  8. This is a great way to think about writing. These days, it all feels like uphill to me. I really was ready to throw in the towel. You reminded me I need to step back, take a breather, and come at it again when I feel rested and refreshed.


  9. Yep, sit down and have a delicious picnic lunch, Debra, have a quick look at the map again, set your compass, and then you'll be ready to press on with the climb!
    This analogy really does work on all levels, doesn't it? :-)

  10. I love the analogy, Paula! Sorry I'm late to the party, and the short comment--getting ready for the holiday.

  11. Excellent post Paula-- I love the analogy of climbing a mountain!! How Awesome!!

    Cheers, Jenn

  12. My first visit here (I just met Paula on Books Gone Viral) but I somehow feel as if I know her sister was named Paula and the heroine of my first four books is Paula. I have climbed a few mountains - Kilimanjaro and Everest Base Camp most recently - and Paula's analogy is spot-on! If you think about the enormity of what you're doing it can be daunting, but if keep putting one foot in front of the other you'll get to the top.

  13. Thansk for visiting, Rosemary - but wow, Kilimanjaro and Everest Bse Camp? That puts my small 'climbs' in the Lake District into perspective! But you're right, what seems daunting may be less so if you take it each step at a time.