Monday, February 2, 2015

How writing is like snowshoeing

It's a great day to snowshoe.The most recent storm left a foot and a half of snow on the ground, and the trails have been untouched for eight days, according to the log at the trail-head. The snow sparkles in the brilliant sun, the sky is a high clear blue, and the air is still. Temps are a little below freezing, but that's a good thing; snowshoeing is physical, and we'll warm up soon.

The virgin powder entices me like a blank page, waiting for me to make my mark on it. What will I find out there? Where will the story take me? But I feel intimidated, too. Will I mess it up? Get lost? Destroy something pure? 

Well, sure I will. There is no creation without destruction, even if it's only the destruction of a different story I might have told. Getting lost on snowy trails is ridiculously easy, especially in open woods like these. Where the porcupine tracks cross my route, I'm tempted to turn and see where he lives, deep in the hemlock grove. Happily, getting unlost on snowy trails is incredibly easy--just turn around and backtrack until you get your bearings. My snowshoes will leave tracks for others to follow, but no one else will have the joy of breaking trail.

On the other hand, no one ever follows exactly the same path. Whether I'm writing a classic genre like cozy mystery or attempting the Appalachian Trail, I will move at a different pace and see things differently from anyone else. I may follow someone else's footsteps, but mine will alter hers. Those who come after me will obliterate mine, or widen the trail, or make detours, just as I do as I follow my hiking partner. 

Making new tracks and making new stories are hard work. Snowshoes widen and lengthen your foot, so your outer thighs and quads take on more of the effort, and your core and back muscles need to compensate. Every new story requires a stretching of the mental muscles, makes you reach deep for new characters and insights, and you will develop new skills to support the tale as it grows. I am often as weary after a day's writing as I am after a day's 'shoeing. 

And just as exhilarated, too. All endeavors, mental or physical, have their rewards. Half this essay ran through my head as I walked, and writing anchors the trail in my memory. Either one is precious, but both together are miraculous.