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Five Mountain-Climbing Strategies

You’re trekking up a steep, snow-covered mountain, and your only goal is to get to the summit (although getting down alive might be nice too). This is something you’ve been working toward for a long time. All of your friends are cheering you on from the bottom of the mountain, although you can’t hear them anymore.

In fact, because of the wind, you can’t hear much of anything. You can no longer feel any major part of your body, and you’re so tired you ache. It’s getting hard to breathe, and your movements slow. Just when you think you can’t take another step, you see something jutting out of the snow in front of you.

A slide.

That’s right. One of those colorful plastic tubes, like at McDonalds playplaces. Only this slide is a monster, wrapping its way all the way down the mountain. It’s also got built-in heating jets, and shoots you down to a spa/massage parlor at the bottom of the mountain.

You have a choice. Are you going to take the slide, or keep climbing up the mountain?

Assuming this is all some big metaphor for the writing process, you would think I would go on to say that you have two choices when faced with a difficult writing project: you can bail out or you can keep going.

That would be wrong. Not that this isn’t a big metaphor for the writing process; it is. But, when faced with a convenient distraction or escape from a writing project, you actually have five choices.

  • Bail out.

Even though you know you could (and should) be persistent, grit your teeth, and write even though you don’t feel like it, sometimes you just surrender. You may not even have a good excuse. That slide was just too tempting. Whee!

  • Keep going.

Frozen or not, you are determined to get through this, because you are just that kind of person. Good for you. Most of us can’t do this. We applaud you.

  • Push someone else down the slide.

You laugh, but if you are part of a community of writers, you might see this every now and then. It happens when we laugh at someone’s dream and say that it’s unrealistic. It happens when we brag about ourselves or make fun of someone else or his writing (even behind his back). It happens when we enter into criticism with the intent to destroy instead of build up.

This is awful and jerk-like, but it happens all the time. I do this all the time, to be honest. I think it’s because we’re afraid of our dreams, so we don’t want other people to reach theirs. We aren’t sure we can finish a story or sell an article or get a book contract, so we don’t want someone else to (or at least, we’re not sincerely happy for them when they do).

  • Torch the slide with a flamethrower.

You may think this is just an excuse to work a flamethrower into this blog post. But no. It’s relevant. This is the person who goes to the opposite extreme and declares that they will never give up, and neither should anyone else. All stories must be finished, writer’s block is an emotion, and no true artist takes a day off!

Standards like this are hard to live up to, both for this person and for the people around him. When I have this attitude (or other attitudes like it), I realize that what I’m really saying is: I’m always right. I can make broad generalizations about the correct way to write, and everyone else must agree with me. Because I blog about it and use clever metaphors.

I hope I never come across that way. It’s hard to find a balance between suggesting a way to do something and insisting that it’s the only way, but that difference is like the difference between a hairdryer and (you guessed it) a flamethrower.

  • Go down the slide…and then climb back up the mountain after getting a cup of hot chocolate.

I highly recommend this method. Not all of us can be blindly intrepid in the face of overwhelming difficulties. There are some stories that are going nowhere and need to be peacefully retired to the Graveyard of Really Bad Stories.

Be careful with this, though. Don’t use the slide when you don’t need to. Most of us should probably be doing more mountain climbing and less hot chocolate sipping. Recognizing a lost cause, though, should spur us on to projects that are worth persevering through writer’s block, rough drafts, and all of the mindless sites on the Internet that we could be spending time on instead.

There you have it: five ways to climb (or stop climbing) a mountain. Some are good, some are bad, none are quite as awful as getting buried in the snow and having a St. Bernard come rescue you while T.V. crews film the rescue. How embarrassing.

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