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Welcome to Monday Motivation – Bouldering the Writing Life
Last week I was rock wall climbing at Brooklyn Boulders, an indoor gym in Gowanus. Rock wall climbing is one of my favorite activities in the entire world. Specifically bouldering, which is essentially the same as rock wall climbing, except instead of climbing up a wall with the safety of ropes, in bouldering you climbing walls that are about 15 feet high. The moves in bouldering are generally more dynamic, and more challenging because the routes are so much shorter. Because the moves are tough, it isn’t uncommon to work on a single route for an hour or more. I’ve sometimes worked on a route for weeks. On each attempt, you learn a little more about where to press your body, how to position your toe just right—I’m talking within millimeters—and along the way you gain the strength in your grip.
And so it was on the like 15th failed attempt to finish a route that I realized just how similar bouldering is to writing. Here are a few ways:
- Before you climb, you study the route. You look at the holds, the distance, and where there might be trouble. But, ultimately you have to just get on the wall to see what happens. You have to actually feel the holds, the strain in your body, and then through sometimes multiple attempts, you’ll finally get it. It’s the same thing with writing, isn’t it? You can study and think about a story, but sooner or later, you have to just start writing. And as you write, the story unfolds to you. There are parts of the story you won’t know until you are writing it. Characters, plots, events, and even words just like holds, become clear. Just like climbing, you learn to write through writing, in the action itself, not the sidelines.
- Next, to boulder is to be comfortable with copious amounts of failure. As I said, it isn’t uncommon for me to fall and fall and fall (and just to note, I’m falling onto a padded floor, not like hard concrete or rock). Part of the fun in climbing is that it isn’t It takes commitment and sometimes just pig-headed determinism. I’ve talked about this a lot in the writing life. Sometimes you’re going to just have to work on one scene or sentence or book over and over and over. Sometimes it is going to take an “I will not quit until this is right” attitude. You’re going to fail and need to find a way to pick yourself up and get back onto the wall to give it another shot.
- Third, no one—and I mean no one—would try to climb a route once, fall, and then say, “well I guess I can’t do it.” Failing is part of the culture of climbing. It is okay to fall. It is okay to need time to work on a route. You might need time to gain experience. You might need to strengthen your grip, your fitness. You might need the ability to see complex moves. Oftentimes, you need the courage to push yourself past your comfort zone, especially when you are fifteen feet in the air, upside down, with your fingers holding onto a grip the width of a pencil.
But, how often do we try something in writing, just to fall off the wall once and say, “well, I guess I can’t do that.”
If you had that response in climbing, you’d never ever climb, and maybe that is why so many people just dabble at writing, fail once, and then say, “well, I guess I’m not a writer.”
No no no, you just need to increase your grip strength, your confidence, fitness, vision. You need to put in the work and climb over and over and over and eventually, you’ll get to the top. You have to expect and prepare to fall, and so when you find yourself on your back, the only thing to do is to get back up and try the route again, because come hell or high water, you’re getting to the top.
Ironically though, in climbing and in writing, it isn’t about getting to the top. Whenever I finish a tough route, I spend maybe a second at the final hold, just to climb down, take a drink of water, and find my next challenge. The joy of climbing is in the climbing, just like the joy of writing is in the writing.
Thank you for joining me. I hope you have a wonderful week of writing.