I am just back from an amazing week-long conference about writing and indie publishing. It was held on the Oregon coast and at one point Dori Butler, Carol Gorman and I took advantage of the setting and went on a hike. It became, for us, a metaphor of the writing journey that we all take and the journey we were taking as writers that week.
We hiked Cascade Head Nature Conservancy trail. There is a three-mile hike that is open year round, but there’s also a shorter trail that only opens after July 15. The road to this upper trail is a gravel road that winds through magnificent forest land. And that’s how the metaphors began.
- Stop and ask for help. The road to the trail is not well marked and we were in totally unfamiliar territory. When you are venturing into new writing lands, stop and ask for help. We knew we had passed the road, but hadn’t seen it, so we stopped at a local restaurant and the waitress kindly drew us a map that we confirmed with our Google Maps app.
- Keep going. The road was steep and curvy and was often uncomfortably close to a steep drop-off. After some miles of climbing, the road dipped and headed downhill. We were confused and became more and more uncertain. Finally, someone said, “We should turn back.” No. We couldn’t give up yet! We decided to go on and around the next bend–yes, around the next bend–there was the parking area for the trail head. Are you tempted to stop writing? Take that next step: submit the manuscript, write that last chapter, keep going. You don’t know what is just beyond the bend.
- No one around. It was early morning, foggy. A lonely road, a quiet space. Writing can feel lonely, too. We work and work and if feels like no one cares. But, remember this: there was a path. Clearly someone had gone before us and surveyed this land, decided it was worth the conservation effort, built and groomed a trail. Writing may feel lonely, but others have gone this direction before. And there is a promise of a fantastic view at the end of the trail. Keep going.
- You can’t see clearly in the fog. Now, this wasn’t just any old fog. It was foggy enough that you couldn’t see more than a couple hundred feet. As with writing, we only saw the immediate surroundings, the long views were closed to us. That didn’t mean it was scary or ugly. In fact, the fog held a peculiar beauty, diffusing the light, creating an almost cozy atmosphere that sheltered and protected. It was a space in which you could keep going by focusing on the task in front of you.
- Spider Webs. Wow. At the edge of a grassy pasture, foxgloves glittered in the fog. A spider web was hung with water droplets like a Christmas tree hung with lights. We stopped to look closer. Likewise, in your writing, enjoy the journey of writing a story. Don’t just look for the finished book or the pay check at the end. Instead–stop and look for spider webs. (Don’t you think that is much better than, “Stop and smell the roses”?)
- Honor our differences. We all carried cameras and when we found this rope looped around a branch, we snapped away. Then we compared and each of us had a different view of the rope and tree–just as each of us carries around a different view of story.
- You may not know when you reach the top. Because of the fog, we weren’t sure what we were supposed to see and where we were supposed to go to see it. We reached a pasture and thought it was supposed to be the top, but we didn’t know. Sometimes, in our writing careers, we reach a certain point and look around, only to be puzzled. Is this the top? Why can’t we see any clearer?
- Paths diverge and converge. Several times there was an obstacle in the path–a fallen tree, a mud puddle–and we had to choose to go right or left. Our paths diverged and converged. As writing buddies, this has been true, too. Over the years I’ve known Dori, we’ve had periods of intense conversations and back and forths, and then the ebb and flow of life takes us different directions. But always–we are writing buddies and we work to have our paths converge, even if only for a week’s retreat.
- Timing is important. We were disappointed not to be able to see the ocean from the top of Cascade Head, so a couple days later, we had some free time in the afternoon, instead of morning. We decided to head back to Cascade Head and try again. Sun shone brightly in the valley, but we saw a cloud hanging over the top of Cascade Head. Was it thick fog again? We pulled into the parking area and it was almost raining. We hesitated. We had been out there once; would we find nothing but fog again? Like in our writing career, you just have to try. You have to write that next novel or story, and you can’t give up. We climbed out of the car and took off.
This time–Wow! The view was amazing.
Thanks, Dori and Carol. It was a great week!