Downhill Writing

Black Diamonds are kind of the climax of skiing for the average skier. You learn the greens and blues, then you look out over the top of a Black Diamond and it feels like do or die, the big moment. Are you good enough? Did those lessons and easier runs prepare you enough for this? Can you make it down without cartwheeling yourself into traction? Or will you catch a ski, ricochet forward, and tumble down in a pig-pen-ish mess of flying skis, poles and shame?

Black Diamonds by definition are steep, so skiers have to be prepared for fast. It’s tempting to try and use your skills to make the mountain and the terrain bend to you. If you turn often (zig-zag, side to side), you can keep your speed down, but on the steeper, tougher runs, this strategy can be counter productive. Forcing too many turns is exhausting and it makes it much more likely you’ll fall.

I know this. Well. But this past week I tried it again and again all in a halfhearted attempt to avoid just going down the darn hill.

I never admit I’m afraid, in skiing or otherwise, so when the instructor said, “I know, it’s scary. I’m a baby, too, but you need to trust your skills and just go for it,”  my reaction was;

Did she say ‘…baby, TOO?”

Followed immediately by;

I’m going to judo chop you, lady.

Followed then by a teenage-like mini pout.

I am NOT afraid. Baby, TOO. I’ll show you baby, TOO.

I could have argued all afternoon that I wasn’t afraid, but instead, standing at the top of that beast-hill with my ski’s hanging out over the edge into space, I took a few moments to think about not so much what she said, but what I was ACTUALLY doing that made her say it.

I acknowledged the twist of my stomach and the numbness in my legs. I thought about turning and keeping it slow and those thoughts made the panic subside a bit. That was my plan, turn A LOT, keep it slow, don’t die. My mind went straight to protecting mode, subconsciously addressing the fear. Worse than being afraid is being wrong, right? Well, she was 100% right, so there I stood, wrong and afraid and now, a little bit mad at myself.

I combat fear by (trying to) take action, usually to assume or maintain (some illusion of?) control and that’s exactly what I was doing on the mountain. I tried to use my skills, my turns, to make the mountain bend to me so I wouldn’t have leave the place (the speed) where I felt comfortable.

The really dangerous thing is the scaredy-cat way can work. Sort of. I made it down a lot of Black Diamonds before then, but until this last week I never really felt the pride and exhilaration of actually skiing one. It was always more like sliding down and then feeling relief… and surprise… that I actually made it.

My very competent, 100% correct (and actually very sweet) instructor must have realized I was having some sort of a mental breakthrough. She looked at me and said, “You’re turns are perfect. They’re beautiful, but eventually, you have to actually ski down the hill.”

And the message finally sunk in.

I was doing everything but. Why? Because the skiing down part was scary. It was the uncertain next level. New falls, new errors, all out in the gleaming white snow and light for God and everybody to see.

What if I roll down the hill and everyone laughs? What if they roll their eyes and whisper, “She has no business on that hill.

And for me, writing is the same.

On the macro level, eventually, you’ve got to put the words, flailing and wobbly and impatient down on the page to stand and be seen so they can be improved.

Then, maybe even harder still, on the micro level, you eventually have to take on the climax scene and tell your story. You have to give Reader the few lines that say what the whole darn thing is all about. You have to show them the tiny spark that set the flame that drove you to mark down your words in the first place, and you have to let them decide if it means anything at all.

My current revision shows I tend to write climax scenes the way I ski Black Diamonds. Afraid.

I’m afraid to show the spark, so I write all around it, take three winding paths to get there when what I really need is one straight shot. The writing may be beautiful, the thoughts and sentiments may be loosely related to the central issue, but really, it’s all just extra turns to avoid pointing my skis down the hill, to avoid finally saying, “Here’s what my story is about. Here’s the big reveal, and by the way, this is all I got, so if it doesn’t work for you, well, then, it doesn’t work for you.”

What if Reader doesn’t see the spark? What if reader thinks, so what? or looks for missing pages? What if reader reads and shrugs and wonders what to fix for dinner?  OR, worst of all, what if reader and other writers and my neighbors and friends and family all whisper, “She calls herself a writer?

Somewhere along the line, I’ve become a person who’s afraid to fall down. That’s not me, and it’s a dangerous and empty way to live.

As my wise and kind instructor said, “If you aren’t falling down, you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough.” So I’m going to focus my energy on honest effort and hard work and let the chips fall where they may.

Here’s to braver skiing and braver writing. Starting now.

Admitting I felt scared definitely helped me get past the challenge of the Black Diamond and writing the climax scene of my novel. Is there something fear kept you from? How and when did you realize it? Did you find a way to get past it yet?

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