I hike a lot in the park just outside my front door. The problem with living at the top of a canyon is that it’s an easy hike down, but it’s not as effortless getting back up to the top.
When I start any hike, I give myself a goal. A mile and a half, two miles, two and a half. Whatever I decide on for the day is good, and it varies based on how I’m feeling. The first part is always easy. I feel like I could walk forever. Inevitably I have to turn around and walk back home, though, and no matter which direction I head in the park, that means a hike back uphill. The return trip always takes two or three times as long as the first part. I have to stop along the way, drink some water, take a rest. Sometimes I can bull my way through it and hike back without stopping at all, going almost as quickly as on the downhill. More often than not, that’s a rarity.
It occurs to me that writing a novel is a lot like hiking. Once I’ve determined to get started and have a few things in order–the literary equivalent of a good pair of shoes, a bottle of water, sunscreen, my cell phone–I’m geared up and eager. Sometimes getting to the starting line is a push but once I’m there, nothing in the world can stop me. Words fly onto the page/feet fly down the path. Ideas are rampant. It’s fun, it’s energizing, it’s beautiful, it’s exhilarating.
Then I get to the middle, and I have to stop there for a while. I look at the way to the end and try to figure out if there’s a shortcut. There never is. The only way back is the way I came, but the work is a lot harder. A little while ago on this blog I talked about the middle being difficult. It is, but I’ve decided it’s fine to acknowledge that, take a little break once I’m there, and gear myself up for the far more difficult journey home.
Unlike hiking a predetermined path, the middle of a novel can be freeing. I don’t have to circle back on the same old route. I can start in my desired direction and see where the words take me. I can give the path free reign, instead of forcing it to fit my initial expectations. Writing as an organic experience is my preferred method, and while I might work from an outline, it’s really more of a suggestion than a requirement.
“And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner.” — Captain Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
May we all have as much fun on the return voyage as we did getting to the halfway point.