Wednesday, March 9, 2022
Lucy Merrill ~ My Personal Everest
Mount Everest, at more than 29,000 feet the tallest mountain in the world, is majestic, serene, harsh, and forbidding.
While most people are content to enjoy the mountain’s beauty in photos and films, a small, but growing, number see in its splendor the ultimate challenge. As one of the two men credited with first summiting Everest famously said, when asked why he wanted to climb the eminence, “Because it’s there.”
I wanted to conquer my personal Everest for the opposite reason—it wasn’t there.
I wanted to write a novel and offer it to the world. I wanted to be an author. That was my impossible dream. My Everest.
I recently reached the summit. I had a lot to learn and, frankly, the odds weren’t always in my favor. But now I know much more about the process, and a bit more about myself.
There are many challenges for the mountaineer setting out to make it to the top of so formidable a peak. So, too, for the writer (although with less drastic consequences for missteps).
Here are a few of the dangers:
Lack of experience. Novices shouldn’t try to scale Mount Everest. Start smaller, y’all. For writers, that doesn’t mean you have to crank out numerous short stories before getting to that novel you want to write. But it does mean you’re going to make mistakes. A lot of them. Find good critique partners or a reliable—and brutally honest—friend to evaluate your work. Take their feedback seriously, even if you decide not to make changes they suggest.
Don’t worry if your manuscript gets roughed up in the process. It’s for its own good. Resolve to make it better. And remember, most successful novelists have an early work stowed in a desk drawer or computer file, unseen by readers’ eyes. Almost nobody gets it right on the first try.
Other climbers. Believe it or not, overcrowding at the early stages of an Everest expedition is one of the biggest problems for climbers. There is a place at the bottom of the famous Hillary Step that can be traversed by only one climber at a time. The rest are waiting in a long, long line, subjected to extremely cold temperatures, and dwindling stamina.
Overcrowding of the book market can be a problem once you have your manuscript finished and even when published. But there are different other-people problems for the aspiring novelist.
There are people who belittle your efforts. “Why are you wasting time on that? Nobody will buy it.” Or the opposite problem. Those who expect a runaway bestseller or the next Pulitzer Prize winner when your highest ambition is to publish a diverting beach read.
Then there are those best-selling authors or award winners. They can inspire an inner voice that says, “I can’t write like that.” Of course, you can’t. You can only write like you. (I once read a Flannery O’Connor short story and was discouraged from writing for months afterward.)
Ignore all these voices. Their chilling effect on your creativity is as debilitating as a Himalayan wind.
Oxygen deprivation. The atmosphere thins out as the elevation increases. The higher you climb, the more the danger from lack of oxygen. You need oxygen to survive, of course, but the peril is yet more insidious. Climbers must be in tip-top shape, physically and mentally, and a low oxygen supply can deprive them of the ability to think clearly and anticipate or work through problems. Avoidable situations can become deadly ones.
Writers are in danger of oxygen deprivation at any altitude, but particularly when starting out. For us, low O2 can come from not trading thoughts, ideas, and encouragement with other writers and readers, and not actively juicing creativity. But the major cause of dream-killing oxygen deprivation is simply not writing. If you want to write a book, write a book. There’s no magic.
Summit fever. The opposite of lower-level oxygen deprivation may be high-altitude, almost-there giddiness that leads to a rush to the finish. For climbers, summit fever can be especially deadly, as they shed their careful plans to power-through and get to the top. For writers, as “The End” comes oh-so-close, craft and skill may fall away in a rush to complete the project.
It also hits after “The End” has been typed. Rushing a manuscript into print is a mistake. Proofreading and editing take time, but they should not be seen as optional steps. Summit fever can deprive you of the best-it-can-be work that you can be proud of.
Crevasses. Glacial ice on the slopes of Mount Everest is subject to cracking, and a yawning chasm can open up, ready to swallow up even a wary trekker. Hidden by snow and ice, crevasses are a serious danger to climbers. Teams rope themselves together to save anyone who falls into one.
For me on my personal Everest expedition, small cracks in self-confidence readily opened into deep, dark, cold crevasses of self-doubt that echo with voices of derision. “You can’t do it. It’s too hard. You’re not good enough.”
Don’t listen to the crevasse. It lies. Make sure you are roped together with Commitment, Effort, and Enthusiasm. They’ll pull you out of any crevasse.
The key to tackling Everest, just like any long journey, is to focus on today. Doing what you can and as much as you can right now. One step, then another and another.
Unlike mountaineers, writers never need to turn back. A project may change. An outline may evolve. But if you keep climbing, you will reach the summit.
Lucy Merrill has amateur detective Nancy Drew to thank for her lifelong love of mystery stories and the budding hope of becoming a writer. After years of writing newspaper and magazine feature stories, she finally fulfilled that childhood ambition and penned a mystery.
Lucy lives in Alabama with a tolerant husband and reads too much and does housework too little. Her first novel, Crazy Red Moon, a cozy mystery set in the 1950s, is currently available on Amazon.
She is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lucy.merrill.author and Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/lucymerrill.