I’ve been blessed in life to have wound up living in Southwest Virginia, an emerald land with lots of mountains and hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail goes right by my city, continuing north and south, connecting acres of national and state forests one to the other. Thru-hikers pass through every spring and summer, going from Georgia to Vermont with nothing but the packs on their backs and the power of their legs. And my fiance and I often hope on stretches of this trail, spending one or two nights sleeping in the open, climbing mountain after mountain.
Even a short overnight of 10 to 15 miles can be intimidating if you are not used to that level of exertion. This weekend, we climbed Dragon’s Tooth, a 2.5 mile peak notorious for its difficulty. Part of the last mile must be climbed using both hands and feet, over tumbled rocks. But the view from the top is wonderful, a wide green valley, and if you’re agile and brave you can climb the Tooth itself, a jagged jut of stone perhaps a hundred feet high. It was windy, so we stayed off the Tooth this time, contenting ourselves with snacks and the view from beneath its leaning bulk. We were exhausted, muscles burning in the chilly air of a late cold snap. We consumed our snacks ravenously, climbed a small boulder nearby and soaked up some sun.
Then it was time to come back down. We made excellent time, jumping off the rocks we had labored so carefully to climb over. There were no options to stop, just spare moments of rest snatched to keep us moving. The trail goes on as long as it does. You can’t cash in before the ending.
But a trail at least ends. There is a peak, or perhaps a waterfall, or a valley. There is a parking lot. Life also ends, but only when you’re dead. It is full of interlocking tasks, steps up the mountain, and there is no pausing. You only have what you carry with you. You can’t cash in before the end.
Writing, as a career, is a lifelong obsession. And like climbing a mountain, it is long, slow work. Unlike climbing a mountain, there is no recognizable peak to tell you that you’re done. You don’t always know if you have made it. I was reminded of this today when reading Kameron Hurley’s blogpost “Dancing for Dinner”, when she said this:
“If you are going to play this game, remember that there is a long road ahead. Remember that it’s not always a straight path. Remember that those with the aura of fame probably still have day jobs. Remember that they are still people. Remember that they are dancing for their dinner, just like the rest of us. Remember the slog.”
I know the slog. I know the place you have to be to make it up the mountain, and then down, and then back up the next one. It’s not a place that hurries. Hurrying frustrates, and frustration is exhausting. You’ll never keep going that way. To live through a hike, you have to enjoy it. You have to breathe deeply of the air and stop to look at cool leaves, strange flowers, ponies, cows, raccoons, even people. You have to take care of yourself, pace yourself, be careful not to get blisters or ticks or scrapes that will slow you down later. You have to rest when the sun goes down and rise with it in the morning. And take pictures – that’s always nice.
Aren’t these woods gorgeous?
All of this introspection is just to say, in the words of Liz C. Long: “Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” We are all working forward one step at a time. Work at your own pace. Do what you can. Don’t compare yourself to other people on the trail, and don’t worry too much about how much further you have to go. You’re never going to be finished, but that’s okay. The beauty is in the journey. You’re writing because you love to write, aren’t you?