I knew what would happen when I agreed to hike Flattop with my sister and our aunt — since it’s happened before.
The hike up Flattop in Anchorage, Alaska began easily enough, the trail weaving upwards from the parking lot up and over the green hillside. It’s not a particularly long site in terms of distance, but it makes up for that with an elevation gain of about 1,300 ft. As you continue forward, the trail grows increasingly steep and intense with the last 1% being a near vertical climb up rocks, like scaling a mountain to the top.
I am situationally afraid of heights. On roller coasters, hot air balloons, planes — anything in which I can trust to the structure surrounding me and the skill of the operator — I can relax into the moment and I’m fine. However, if I’m in a situation where my own physical prowess is required to keep me from falling off a cliff or stumbling down a mountain — well, let’s just say that I’m a klutz on flat ground and so there is much less trust involved.
We reached the point of verticality, the point where I know I’ve freaked out in the past. Following my sister, I started scaling up the side and I told myself that this time I was going to be fine, this time it wouldn’t be so bad —
then my foot slipped on loose gravel.
Panic shot through me, and my breath quickened. I clung to the gravel and rock, suddenly too scared of going up and too scared of going down. My leg and arm muscles started to cramp — caught between the need shift my footing toward a better path and my own fear. I could feel panic overtaking me, the desire to just huge the mountainside and weep in terror.
But swallowed the feeling down, forced myself to slow my breathing. Even so, it wasn’t until my sister came back down and guided me through the process of repositioning my hand- and footholds that I was able to find a more stable path toward the top. Even then, the journey was slow going with panic always at the edge of my peripheral.
Clambering over that final hump was an immense relief and joy — I made it to the top of Flattop Mountain. It was a fogging day, so we were not able to gain a view of Anchorage. But I was safe, standing there with the gravel and stone of the mountain solidly beneath my feet. All around us were little piles of stones created by fellow climbers, tiny monuments to difficult journeys.
When I returned to my work on THE NOVEL at the beginning of the year, I approached the process with a sense of hope — much in the same way I felt when looked up at Flattop Mountain before hitting the trail. I can do this, I told myself. It will be worth it.
I dug into the work and — quickly found myself stuck in a bog of anxiety. All my previous attempts at writing THE NOVEL had resulted in frustrations and dead ends. How would this time be any different? Wasn’t this going to be the book that would prove I could write books? Should I even bother pursing a writing career if I couldn’t do this one thing?
When people talk about writer’s block, it usually boils down to fear. I was placing all this burden on myself and this one project — and the result was that I couldn’t write. I could barely even sit at my own computer. But also couldn’t bring myself to put the project aside.
Clinging to the project like rocks on a mountainside, I decided I didn’t want to step away. So, Instead I needed to find a way to keep moving forward.
There are many ways to address feeling stuck as a writer — one of which is to write through the problem. I decided to treat the process as an exercise to further explore my characters, giving myself permission to write scenes that may never appear in the final draft of the novel.
To avoid overthinking while putting words to the page, I opened up Write or Die (which has a free online trial version), a program that punishes you if you pause too long while writing. The punishments can be in the form of visual and audio surprises to remind you of your purpose to kamikaze mode, in which the program will start erasing your writing.
Using kamikaze mode, switched me over to a more enjoyable sense of panic. Rather than being anxious over the big picture of the project, I narrowed my focus down to putting one word after another. It was the only thing that mattered, the only thing that kept the program from eating those words. I had no choice but to scramble forward up the mountain.
Putting words on the page has a powerful affect on me. It’s an act that frustrates and soothes me in equal measure. The words I wrote were not perfect, but they moved me forward and returned to me a sense of joy for the characters and story I have been attempting over many years to tell.
I haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet, but I think I can get there.
Book of the Month
Seven years after the tragedy that befell the scientists, actors, and crew of Atargatis who they were traveling the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” on mermaids, a new team has been put together to find answers. What really happened to the Atargatis? What secrets lie hidden in the deeps of the Mariana Trench? Although they are geared up more thoroughly this time, none of them are fully prepared for the dangers they find.
If you’ve been longing for a book about vicious, murderous mermaids, then Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant is the book for you. There were moments in this book that legitimately terrified me, moments where I was to scared to keep reading, where I shouted at the characters as if I was watching a horror movie, where I couldn’t put the book down. Into the Drowning Deep is an altogether phenomenal science fiction horror story, one that makes me even what could be down in the dark of the ocean.
More on what I've loved reading, watching, and playing in July is here.
If you enjoyed reading this, please subscribe to A Seed to Hatch, my (semi)-monhly newsletter on the writing life and things that are interesting to writers.