Wednesday, November 23, 2016

U is for Uphill Struggle

Paula thinks writing the first draft of a novel is an uphill struggle!  

Jennifer’s blog yesterday about the struggles we face when writing reminded me of a blog post I wrote several years ago when I compared writing to climbing a mountain. Many years ago, before my arthritis made it impossible, I used to enjoy climbing the mountains in my beloved Lake District (in NW England). None of them higher than about 3,000 feet, but they were still quite a challenge.

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’ of my new story 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. Great post, Paula. I love the comparison of writing to climbing a mountain. And comparing the editing to the descent! That's exactly what it is.

    1. Thanks! I'm struggling up the final slope at the moment! :-)

  2. I echo Ana's sentiments. I love the comparison. And as a reluctant hiker (my husband drags me up and down mountains), I can completely relate to the difficulties encountered and perseverance required with writing. :)

    1. Perseverance is the key, even when the going gets tough!

  3. A great comparison. At least with writing you don't 'need' to plot you can fly on a wing and a prayer and hope you arrive where you intend!