Saturday morning, my husband and I conquered Mount Sherman, peaking at 14,o36 feet. Here in Colorado we have 54 mountains over 14,000 (Fourteeners, we call them affectionately) and it’s been a goal of mine for some time to reach the top of at least one of them.
Fourteeners are a challenge. There’s some mild oxygen deprivation (at 14,000 feet, there’s only 40% of the atmosphere that exists at sea-level), which tends to manifest in strange ways. There’s a strange pressure in your jaw. You feel like you’re hyperventilating, and you have to stop often, or at least move incredibly slowly. The tops of the Rockies tend to be loose rock (I can’t help but think that’s how the range got its name) which necessitates scrambling and being extremely careful in your footing, lest you slide off the edge. There’s biting wind, and the temperature difference between 12,000 and 14,000 feet can often be thirty degrees or more.
I can’t help but compare my summit to novel-writing. When you start, you aren’t acclimated to the elevation, and every step feels heavy. You believe there’s no way you’ll ever get to the top. When you start a novel (or any step of the novel – writing, editing, submission), often one flounders about. The beginning feels stilted. Your characters feel bland and uninteresting, and nothing comes out how you pictured it in your head.
But, after some time, things flow better. It’s easier to put one foot in front of the other, to catch your breath. The story starts to take an interesting shape, and optimism returns. You are going to do this, and not only that, you are going to do it so hard it will be epic.
Then you reach the final approach, the last 500-700 feet. You’re so close. You can taste it. But it takes you forever to get there. You feel like you’re there, but when you reach the top of your current ridge, there’s the mountain, towering over you. Mocking you. Those last couple hundred feet seem like an insurmountable obstacle, and no matter how much you trudge, your goal stays just out of reach.
But here’s the thing. Eventually there’s no more ridges. You can make the summit if you just keep at it. So it goes with novels. The end (of whatever step you’re on) may seem forever further away, but with patience and consistency, it is only a matter of time.