Help For Climbing the Difficult Hills

What I Learned About Life & Writing From . . . Climbing Sand Dunes

Have you ever faced a situation that looked impossible? Too stressful, too much work, too big to handle? You may have stared at the problem or task and couldn't even figure out where to start. It was just too overwhelming.

I’ve felt that way often. Sometimes I think my wonderful writer's imagination gets the best of me and I blow the situation out of proportion—I see a mountain to climb, when really it’s only a hill. For example, recently, as I looked ahead to the fall schedule, the start of a new school year, and all that I have going on, I panicked. I thought to myself, “My days are going to be so busy, how am I going to get any writing time at all?”

I was seeing a mountain and my mom had to remind me that it was really just a hill. She said something like, “Yes, it looks impossible. But you’ve always managed every year. You’ll get into a routine, and you’ll find a way to make it work.”

Last week, my family and I went to Sleeping Bear Dunes in northwestern Michigan. We hiked on sandy trails through the dunes, viewed the majesty of the steep cliffs overlooking Lake Michigan, dipped into the crystal clear waters. And last but not least, we climbed the BIG dune (that's half  of the hill in the above picture).

From far away, the dune doesn’t look all that big or steep. It’s not much more than a really long hill. But up close, from the bottom, we couldn’t see the top, and it appeared much longer and harder to climb—more like a mountain.

There were several things that helped me in my efforts to climb the dune, things that can help all of us as we tackle the hills we face in our writing and life.

Put one foot in front of the other.

As I climbed the dune, my feet sank into the soft, hot sand. The more steps I took, the more my muscles burned and my lungs stung. But I didn’t look up and I didn’t look down. Instead I focused on making my feet move forward, one foot in front of the other.

I found the same principle to be true in finishing my rewrites on Book #2 this week. When I first got my rewrites back from my publisher over a month ago, they looked like a mountain. But once I started making the changes, I took it one scene at a time. I challenged myself to complete one chapter a day. I pushed myself through the burning pain and kept going until I finally reached the summit.

Whether it’s finishing a book, a project, or an obligation—whatever it is, we need the self-discipline, determination, and will-power to keep moving steadily upward.

Go at my own pace.

My older children practically ran up the dune. I could blame my much slower pace on my four year old whose hand I was holding. But . . . I admit, I just don’t have the exuberant energy of a teenager anymore. In fact, I was quite content to dilly-dally with my youngest.

It’s easy for us to get discouraged with where we’re at, especially in the writing journey. We see others bounding ahead of us and wonder why we can’t keep up. There may even be times when we look behind us and secretly pat ourselves on the back because we’ve made it further than others.

What I’m learning is that we can’t compare our position on the hill with others ahead or behind us. We’re all in different places, moving at different speeds. There are some who have more energy and time to devote to the climb. And others who truly enjoy a more leisurely pace.

Remember that reaching the top is NOT impossible.

There were plenty of others who made it to the top of the dunes, some who were much older than me, and even two and three year olds. I figured if they could do it, surely I could too. The important thing was believing in myself and reminding myself that I could reach the summit eventually--if I just kept moving forward. I didn’t have to be the best athlete or strongest climber to make it.

Likewise, with our writing journeys or the problems we’re facing, we need to remind ourselves that we don’t have to be the best or most brilliant to make it to the top. James Scott Bell in Plot & Structure says this: "The Truth is that craft can be taught and that you, with diligence and practice and patience, can improve your writing. . . The main difference between successful writers and unsuccessful writers is persistence."

Sure, genius and talent can possibly make the climb quicker. But with steady, determined steps, the rest of us can keep on moving toward the top too.

What about you? What kind of hills are you climbing lately in writing or life? Have you been tempted to give up? What helps you in your efforts to keep going?

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