When Writing Feels Like Hiking a Mountain... Commit!

By Jason Brandt Schaefer
jason@empathiceditors.com

Take it from this writer/editor/musician/mountaineer/startup-founder—making a commitment to any huge project can seem daunting, especially when there are so many interesting subjects and mountains to explore. But that’s the nature of life. We weigh opportunity costs, make a choice, and live with the consequences, for better or worse.

For the writer, as well as the editor, making it to the last page of the latest project often requires a great commitment. Three hundred pages of text! That’s a lot of words to get down and read through. We hear about writer’s block all the time, but that feels different to everyone, and I’m not so sure we couldn’t call it a lack of interest, or a fear of proceeding, like getting stuck or “gripped” on a challenging rock climb. The truth is, when it comes to writing, sometimes the better you get, the harder it is to move on. Each page of a manuscript is a new bushwhack through the forest of your mind. If you write non-fiction, you’re forging new connections with old and sometimes challenging emotions; if you write fiction, you’re creating new memories from scratch. This means no approach to your project, if it’s done right, will ever be the same because every new story calls for its own way to be told.

Yours truly struggling up a ridge climb on Dyer Peak, Colorado.

In mountaineering, each peak requires careful study of prevailing and current weather conditions, the topography of the entire area to be crossed, and the selected route in all its twists and turns. The lower the number of people who have done the route, the easier it is to get off-track or get stuck in the raging elements. Mentally speaking, writing a great story offers no fewer pitfalls. Granted, when you’re cogitating in your favorite easy chair by the fire, cup of tea in hand, there’s little risk of getting struck by lighting above treeline, but often getting the right words down to explain what you’re feeling, to perfectly describe what exists in your imagination, can feel as difficult as wrestling your way over a gendarme or climbing a sheet of waterfall ice.

On mountains, too, we talk about commitment. We confer with our partner or team before ascending a ridge, asking questions like, If the weather rolls in, will we be able to descend? Sometimes the answer is no, and the trip calls for a clear weather window and an expeditious pace past the no-escape zone. When it comes to writing, the only danger is being misunderstood or having your words taken out of context and misconstrued. Maybe you worry your friends and family will see you in a different light, or that telling your story will risk your professional reputation. Like a mountain guide, a trusted peer—or in my case, an experienced book editor—can significantly reduce risk and reassure you that in writing, there is a way around any obstacle. When you say, “Writing this book is like climbing a mountain,” believe me—I know what you mean.

The Empathic Editors web site alone took me six weeks of steady, dedicated, and daily fiddling with html editors. I didn’t train for it. I didn’t study computer science. I had to learn the basics of a new discipline and work through each problem step-by-step, and sometimes it was infuriating. Because I’m a writer, I spent most of my time drafting content to make sure my audience understood my plucky brand and all the services we offer, carefully considering each word. Empathy: what a radical idea in this age of political division! How can I work that into the services we offer? Editing: why do writers need to draft anyway, and what advice will help them navigate the process? Exposure: what can this word mean when it comes to building a writing community out of a mountain culture?

My web site is my commitment to my small business and to you. Our service embraces a simple idea: that perhaps a creative writing education can improve the world. To me, the ideal client should feel like a partner or a student. Our objectives are the same, after all—to successfully finish your book and launch it into the world. I’m drawn to this type of work because the key to a functional society is and always has been communication and understanding—in a word, empathy.

So when you’re ready to make your voice heard, don’t hesitate. Reach out. Yes, the mountains may always be there, but you only have one life to live. Spend a portion of it in recollection. Write some of it down. This is what immortality means to me: knowing my words will last long after I’m gone, like those mountains I’m so fond of.