Writing the Ravine: A View From a Rope Bridge

Have you ever crossed a rope bridge? A really rickety one, not much more than a few pieces of rope strung across a drop of bone-breaking proportions? Living in New Zealand, I’ve had my fair share of encounters with these no-frills crossings – especially on school camps where they are deliberately built that way to promote confidence.  (Not sure it had that effect on me – I could only envisage them scraping up my broken body from the rocks below while our teacher felt terribly guilty apologising to my distraught parents…).  But then it occurred to me crossing a rope bridge is a great metaphor for the writing journey.

1. Consider Your Approach.

The last thing you want to do when getting onto a rope bridge is rush the approach. You’d check it was sturdy, evaluate the distance and ease on slowly to make sure it will hold your weight.

It’s much the same with writing a novel.  Hopefully you will have given some thought to what you want to achieve, the genre, the theme or an overall goal. I have the greatest respect for pansters, but even if you plan to pants your work the whole way – it pays to have some kind of plan or you can invest a whole lot of time in something that might end up in the trash. (Or the bottom of a ravine.).

2. Balance is the Key.

It doesn’t matter how good your plan might be to walk steadily across the rope bridge without stopping or slowing down; but once you’re on the bridge other things will affect your progress.  There might be a slight breeze which requires you shift your weight. Some ‘friend’ might decide to leap off the end and you have to white-knuckle it until the bridge stops swinging.  Your foot might slip and it takes time to recover your balance (and your nerve).  The truth is when you cross a basic rope bridge every step is a matter of balance.  The same is true in the writing journey.

I’ve put many plans in place over the years outlining how I will write my novel.  One went something like this:  I will write one hour every morning and the cumulative word count will mean I’m finished by X.  The problem is life happens. I missed the odd morning, the cumulative words turned out to be cumulatively bad (or unusable) and I felt like a failure.  What I’ve come to realise is – I know my goal. So each day I have to work out the best way to move me closer.  Take a step, check my footing is good and I’m half-way there.  Now I know setting goals is good, I’m all for them and even have another lined up for later this year.  But I’ve learned it’s easier if I balance family, work, health, friends and writing each day.  I want good words.  And I want to enjoy the journey.

3. Start and Keep Going.

What’s the alternative to not crossing the bridge?  You could go down and make your way through the rough ravine to get to the other side.  You could take the long way around (if there is one).  Or you could go back and miss out on what’s on the other side.  If you want to write, going across is the equivalent to writing the novel.  Not reading about writing, talking about writing, journaling forever…  Cross the bridge.  Write the novel.

4. Don’t Let Fear Stop You.

If you’ve ever looked down while crossing one of these bridges, (if you’re at all like me) you start to see every jagged rock, every sharp stick or unyielding boulder.  If fear gets hold of you the shakes start.  You shake.  The bridge shakes.  All of a sudden there’s a real possibility the whole thing will flip over and the emergency rescue team will be coming for your body.

That doesn’t usually happen (although it might – I am it seems, still a wimp at heart), instead you tend to white-knuckle the sides and freeze.  Anyone seeing the correlation here? If you think too hard about what you’re trying to achieve when you’re writing, you may not write anything.  I’ve had plenty of times when I’ve thought it’s all a bit much.  I’ll never do it. Who am I kidding?  But then I take a deep breath. Find my balance. And take the next step.

If we let fear stop us writing, we don’t just stop and that’s it – our dreams are the ones that end up broken in the ravine.  And that hurts.

5. Don’t Rock the Bridge.

There is nothing worse when you are on a rope bridge, when someone else decides to rock it.  Because they’re not in any danger, they think it’s funny to scare you.  I’m sure none of you would ever do this. It’s the same with writing. Don’t pull holes in someone’s writing because you think it isn’t as good as your own.  We’re all on the same bridge so to speak, even if some can navigate more easily.

I remember an old Castle episode (well Firefly is gone so at least Nathan Fillion is doing the writer thing), where Castle (rich, famous, best-selling author of a hugely successful series) invited a younger breakthrough writer to his poker game with his other established best-selling author friends.  The group pretended to welcome him in, but then preceeded to humiliate him and reinforce his green, new-author-on-the-block status.  The younger writer left with his (proverbial) tail between his legs, knowing exactly what his former heroes thought of him.  Now Castle as a character has many (mostly) likeable flaws, but this went over the line for me.  He was jealous of the youngster and his behaviour was plain mean.  I think you get the point.

6. Relax and Enjoy the View.

If you can relax and take the time to look out from a rope bridge, you’ll often find a vista has opened up that you have never seen before.  You feel like you’re flying above it all – that you’re part of it.  It’s a great feeling.  Again it is the same with writing.  When I can get my head above the self-doubts I can appreciate what an amazing feeling writing this book has been.  Right now, in drafting stage, I’m really the only one who can glimpse the potential of this story – and my own potential as a writer.  I’m trying to make the choice to enjoy it.

Only you can walk the rope bridge, one step at a time.  Others can watch and cheer you on, but essentially it’s something only you can do.  I hope it’s going well for you today.  Keep going – I’ll see you on the other side!

Can you relate to this metaphor?  Do any of these points resonate with you? How do you keep going?

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5 thoughts on “Writing the Ravine: A View From a Rope Bridge

  1. I think my metaphor for my writing journey is a little different. I think I am the Forrest Gump runner who got up one day and took off. I had something bouncing around in my head that I wanted to write and so I wrote. As I went along a little, I realized that I needed a plan, so I drew myself a map of where I wanted to go (the outline for the rest of the large story I was telling) and I have been running that route ever since, occasionally stopping to check and see if that’s where I still want to go.

    As an aside, my favorite rope bridge story was what we called the “monkey bridge” at boy scout camp. Literally two ropes strung across part of a lake that were positioned with one 4 feet above the other. Two of us got on there and established a good rhythm (one on one side and one on the other) as we worked our way across. The counselors put a third kid on when I was almost all the way across and the other guy was a little over halfway across and the rope started bouncing and swaying. The two of us who had been doing so well just held on for dear life until the new guy knocked himself off, then we went the rest of the way safely.

    1. LOL – I love the Forrest Gump metaphor – and it works well when you’re writing if you’re going in a straight-line. For me I tend to run around in circles and have a huge folder of cute or interesting scenes that just don’t fit the big picture. *sighs* The best one of course is that we are all a little like his box of chocolates. Each of us different and put together in a unique way – yet still chasing the proverbial story.

      By the way I’m glad you managed to stay on. I’m all for the hold on for dear life approach!

  2. Great metaphor, especially part 4. I have been writing for years, but I only recently decided to try to get published. I’m often wondering what I have gotten myself into but since I’m already halfway along the bridge, I can’t let fear stop me now… 🙂

    1. We were talking about that yesterday at writing group, as one of our members is in the same boat. It’s a hard process, frustrating and tough on our self-esteem. Keep going – sometimes that bridge seems LONG – but you have a cheering squad too. Best of luck with publication and all it entails!

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