Posted by: Kerry Gans | January 3, 2012

Climbing the Writing Mountain

People often equate the attempt to get published to a journey. It is not uncommon to hear it called the path to publication. It’s an apt metaphor, as the road is long and arduous, with many detours, milestones, and strangers-become-friends along the way.

But I find the craft of writing to be more of a mountain than a road.

We all start at the bottom. Some of us as children, some later in our lives, but at one point we all have the urge to write. At that moment, we stand at the bottom of the mountain, staring up at the immense height of its summit and say, “I can never get to the top. I don’t even know where to begin.”

We begin, as every good story does, at the beginning. We start writing. And then we find someone to act as a guide up the mountain. To teach us what we need in our backpack, and what it takes to make a solid base camp from which to foray.

And thus we begin our climb. Sometimes the going is easy–a pleasant jaunt on a beautiful day. Sometimes the path is rough–a finger-cutting, bruising haul in a freezing wind. Occasionally we get snowed under by avalanches made of self-doubt, rejection, and criticism. And sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we reach a plateau that seems to have no further upward route.

When we hit those plateaus (and we all do), it is important that we do several things. First, we should stop and admire the view—see how far we have come and congratulate ourselves for what we have achieved so far. Second, we should take stock of our supplies, and see what we might be lacking. Third, we should then seek out a new guide to help us learn the skills we need to continue our climb.

The nice thing about the writer’s mountain is that we are not alone upon it. Just look around, and you will see many other writers scaling the craft cliffs, just like you. Some are above you. Some are below you. And while each is pursuing his own individual route up the mountain, most of them are willing to reach out a hand to help you past a difficult point.

And so the climb goes. Panoramic views that feed your soul; hard-scrabble walls that break your heart. Life storms that threaten to wash you off the mountain for good; friendly hands that hold tight to your lifeline when you fall. The specter of the void at your back; the promise of the summit ahead of you.

Our mountain has one strange feature, however. The summit keeps moving. It does get closer, but no matter how hard you climb, you never quite reach it. There is always one more skill to master, one more nuance to understand, one more subtlety to conquer. We are never perfect. There is always more to learn.

That unreachable summit may seem like torture to those outside the writing life. To never attain perfection in your craft? To always know that no matter how hard you strive, there is always a level beyond where you are? To be certain, no matter how many books you publish, that you could have written them better? Isn’t that unattainable goal enough to drive you crazy?

To me that unreachable summit is a wonderful thing. The climb towards the top is filled with adventure and new friendships. Every plateau is a celebration. Every seemingly sheer wall a new challenge. As I climb, the victories become dearer and the views become ever more spectacular. When I look up and see that the summit has moved again, joy fills me because I know that the new views will allow me to see farther than I have ever seen before.

The craft of writing is an insurmountable mountain—and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


  1. Kerry, you so got this right one…its the craft that’s a mountain…not the path to publication


  2. The moving summit–exactly what I too love about writing! Plus, when you get to the top with one project, you realize wow, it wasn’t one mountain after all. That first big mountain hides an entire string of them, as numerous as the number of novels you hope to produce, each one with different toeholds and curious terrain, each with its own crevices and dead-end caves and harrowing passes. And while climbing that next mountain you say “Dang, I never encountered a problem like this before.” Voila! Constant learning. 🙂


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