7:30 BELLS Guest Post: Climbing Mountains, Writing Novels--by author David Patneaude
I'm so pleased to share this month's guest post by David Patneaude, amazing and prolific author for kids and young adults, whom I've had the good fortune to know for years.
In 2010 a couple of my brothers and I made the trek to Mt. Rainier’s Camp Muir. When I eventually gazed around from the observation point at everything, even other peaks, spread out below us in a wild, seemingly untouched landscape, I felt the standing-on-top-of-the-world sensation lifting me even higher. I also felt the altitude—10,400 feet—and the temperature change—seventy-something at Paradise Lodge when we’d left, thirty-something when we arrived at Muir.
Except for the hum and whistle of wind, a blanket of silence lay everywhere.
For much of the steady climb, fatigue had dogged me. The last half of the trek was in calf-deep snow. So it was put your head down, don’t look up, keep slogging, don’t think about the constant backsliding, don’t sit down because you might not want to get up. And the other voice: there’s a beer with your name on it waiting down at the lodge, masochist! Smarten up! Turn around!
But the beer could wait. I’d done difficult things—boot camp, the Navy, crappy jobs, a soured marriage, marathons, shorter races at faster speeds, the Columbia Tower climb, a triathlon, dark days and death (other people’s, not mine). I could do this. And once I got to the end of our grind and had a real chance to take in my surroundings, I thought about inspiration. Then imagination. Then story.
Writing. And the parallels between what I’d just experienced and was experiencing and the art or craft or carnival show or whatever you think of when you consider the process of getting words down on paper or into the memory of a computer and not stopping until you’ve reached your destination.
Something inspires you to write a story and you imagine a scene or fuzzy overview or maybe you’ve got an actual outline and you start off with a ton of enthusiasm but then you get bogged down because that stuff in your head doesn’t flow onto the paper like you thought it would. The ideas dry up, the right words don’t come, the characters stay flat and uninteresting. But you look around and realize what it was that got you going. You remember the times you’ve done this before. You see the millions of books out there and realize how many other people have done it. You recall how you prepared. Instead of a sweaty hour on the Stairmaster or six rainy miles on the trail or a mile of steep uphill along the pipeline, you’ve read thousands of books and written hundreds of thousands of words and even when you weren’t actually writing you kept your writing brain in gear, looking for inspiration and using your imagination and generating and revising ideas.
So trudging up the side of a mountain is a metaphor for writing something substantial. And vice versa. And if I want to go deeper, I’d say that both are metaphors for life. But I’ll leave the details of that comparison to your imagination.
From his home in Woodinville, Washington, or anywhere else he happens to be, David Patneaude writes middle grade and young adult novels and stories. His books have appeared on many state young readers lists, won awards, been translated into other languages, recorded for listening, and produced as a movie. When he’s not writing he enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, exploring the outdoors, running, and of course, reading.