I love the Discovery Channel. Not just for Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs, but something my sister got me hooked on last year, in its very first season: Climbing Mount Everest. There’s this guy, Russel Brice, who takes clients up to Mount Everest, puts them through their paces, and helps them summit the mountain. They don’t all make it, they see people die all around them, they struggle, they risk their lives, and they pay him $50,000 each for the opportunity.
“The journey of a thousand miles sometimes ends very, very badly.”
This season, asthmatic Mogens Jensen finally admitted – after three failed attempts – that he would have to use the supplemental oxygen 99% of the other climbers use, if he truly wanted to reach his goal. Tim, the LA Biker, who almost died on the mountain last year because he was stubborn and lazy, was almost kicked off the summit team again this year for being a slacker. This time pushed himself, broke his hand, and continued to climb until he made it to the summit, then back down again.
“It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others.”
This year, in tonight’s final episode – though I’ve heard it a hundred times – something Mogens said suddenly struck a cord. He was still on his way up, struggling but making it, and he said “You know, I’m not here to conquer the mountain. I’m hear to conquer myself.” Sitting there, trying to come up with an intelligent (or semi coherent) post to blog, it suddenly struck me how meaningful that simple statement is. At least to me, at this time in my writing life, this very moment.
“If you never try anything new, you’ll miss out on many of life’s great disappointments.”
I’d recently gotten a rejection that hit hard, because it came with a sudden, unexpected high, spanned just enough time to allow daydreaming, then ended with a crash. And I waxed melodramatic about it. It got me down, but by no means out. However it did get me thinking on a certain path. Mostly that path is leading to my own Mount Everest. A goal I need to push myself to reach, something that will test my abilities, and possibly either make or break me.
“Just because you’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean it isn’t incredibly stupid.”
Two Mount Everests, in a way, are Publishing, and Pushing. My ultimate Mount Everest is to become a published author in the traditional sense. Someone who obtains an Agent, who then wins me a Publisher, who then pays me some monetary sum and eventually produces a hard or paperback version of my novel.
“There is no greater joy than flying high on the wings of your dreams, except maybe the joy of watching a dreamer who has nowhere to land but in the ocean of reality.”
I’ve been getting rejections, yes, but admittedly I’ve also had nibbles. I’m waiting for quite a few replies yet, and I have reason (somewhat) to hope. But until I’ve achieved that goal – until I’m standing on that summit, I still have to conquer myself. And that leads me to my second mountain – Pushing. I’ve been giving my writing some serious thought these past few days. My style, my technique, my “usual” – and asking myself “What do I need to change to make these stories lure an agent? What are they missing that’s keeping me here at Base Camp?”
“The race for quality has no finish line – so, technically, it’s more like a death march.”
Someone once said it wasn’t their job to know what sells. That’s partially true – but it is our job as writers to read books, and get an understanding for what has sold in the past. To look at published works objectively and mentally compare them to our own writing. I think another big part of the picture is to ask ourselves if we’re pushing our own individual envelops, or are we basking in the glow of our golden, unpublished words.
“If you find yourself struggling with loneliness, you’re not alone. And yet you are alone. So very alone.”
My second Mount Everest is to push myself beyond my limits. To extend my next novel outside of my own personal envelope and delve deeper, go left when my instincts say right. I need to challenge myself to write a tale I’ve never told before – one that I’ve dreamed of one day writing, but allowed the exhaustion of effort keep me down. A story that’s complex, intricately woven, bringing a new world to life in rich, interesting ways. It’s time to step outside what flows from my fingers, slow myself down, and truly – deeply – consider every sentence, every detail. I believe the Penman Shipwreck is the perfect launching pad for my new summit quest. Writing with pen and paper is going to slow me dramatically, make me think differently, and consider the possibility that this new novel might take longer than the others to write, but will eventually be so much more than anything I’ve written before.
So that got me wondering – What’s your Mount Everest? Is it finishing a novel for the first time? Getting published? Stretching your own limitations to see what’s out there – how far you can go as a writer? What are you doing to push yourself to higher goals? Or are you quite happy sitting at Base Camp, with binoculars and a parka?
“When you wish upon a falling star, your dreams can come true. Unless it’s really a meteorite, hurtling to the Earth which will destroy all life. Then you’re pretty much hosed no matter what you wish for. Unless it’s death by meteor.”