Stay on the “Write” Path – No shortcuts allowed

Yesterday I stole a few hours to myself and drove up the Ruby Mountains to a trail head near my house.  For some reason, it is a place that inspires me to write.

My favorite place to write on the slopes of the Ruby Mountains.

I set a chair in the shade next to a willow and for the first time in a few weeks, I got a lot of writing done.   A soft breeze blew; the air smelled like fall.  The creek that usually burbles down the mountain was just a muddy strip, so I didn’t get to enjoy the sound of the water, but I didn’t mind.  I wrote in my journal and then wrote a character sketch, an entire scene, and the rough outline of the next scene.

For the first time in a few weeks, I got into the zone, that space where the words just come.  Sometimes those words flow; sometimes they don’t.  I have the big picture in my head of my whole story, but it takes a whole bunch of words, written one at a time, to create that picture.  I’ve learned that there are no shortcuts in writing.  I can’t make the process shorter or easier.  It is what it is, and I have to write every single necessary word, one at a time.

At one point I looked up and realized that I was looking at one of the most fateful shortcuts in American history.  I felt like it was God’s little reminder of that lesson.

From my perch on the side of the mountains, across the valley I could clearly see a portion of the Hasting’s cutoff, the “shortcut” the Donner party took as they followed the South fork of the Humboldt river which meets up with the California trail just on the other side of the canyon. 

The Hastings cutoff  looped south around the Ruby Mountains and then back north to meet the California trail near present day Elko, Nevada.  Unfortunately for them, the route was incredibly difficult and actually added more than 100 miles to their journey.  It was this shortcut that led, in part, to their tragic demise on the eastern slope of the Sierra Mountains.

I feel like I’ve been on my own little Hasting’s cutoff for the past month, floundering around, trying to figure out how to teach full time, participate in my kids’ activities, and make sufficient progress on my novel without completely beating myself up and feeling like a failure.

As I sat looking at the route they took, a route that goes literally within fifteen miles of my house, I realized, yet again, that there are no shortcuts no matter how much I like them. 

I like to take shortcuts, to mark items off my list just a little bit faster, so I can move on to the next item.  Writing doesn’t allow that.  For me at least, I’ve learned it is a slow process.  I’m learning to be okay with that.  It’s a lesson the Donner Party didn’t learn, and look what happened to them.

Even if I don’t make as much progress as I expect of myself, at least I’m not on the real Hastings cutoff.  My slower than expected pace will only add a month or two to my projected finish date.  Fortunately, it won’t lead to eating my neighbor for dinner, literally.

For that, I am thankful.  So, thank you God, for the very visual reminder, that I need to take this entire journey one word at a time.  It will take me as long as it takes as long as I just keep on writing and don’t detour off the “write” path.

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  1. Debra Mae White on October 3, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Amy, I feel so much better after reading your post. With one foot in my financial practice and one in the writing world, I often must fend off the demons that hang out on my “to do list” and threaten my self esteem. Thanks for letting me know I am not the only one juggling life to savor those precious moments of stillness that lead to soul writing. What a great reminder…writing is a journey, not a destination.

  2. Gary Isaman on October 3, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Amy, I am very proud of you. You are doing an awesome job balancing family, teaching (your J.O.B.) and writing. Your dedication and determination will pay off. I can’t wait to read your first novel.

  3. Sharon Rosse on October 4, 2011 at 4:36 am

    Great essay! Wise thoughts and lessons. So glad that you and your muse have an “inspiration point.”

  4. Claire on October 7, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Love that reference to the Donner party and the photo, I read ‘Searching for Tamsen Donner ‘ a while ago soon after ‘These is My Words’ about another inspirational and courageous pioneer woman.

    Another wonderful insight about shortcuts and the need for patience and perhaps faith in the process. I recall experiencing something similar when writing my novel, approaching it in a business like manner, outline planned, knowing where I was going and then the joy of the story taking over, but also the fear of being out of control, running blind.

    The message really got to me though when someone commented on my work that there was a point where the pace and the flow changed and I believe that was the point at which I let go.

    Its a wonderful learning process and even the delays teach us something.

    Bonne continuation.

    • Amy Isaman on October 7, 2011 at 1:25 pm

      That’s so interesting that your readers were able to identify when you really gave in to the whole process. Did you go back and change the sections before that to greater reflect your growth as a writer?

  5. Claire on October 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Actually it was after reading ‘Stephen King’s’ ‘On writing’ that I decided to stop editing my work while in the process of creating it. Up until then I would write, print, edit, rewrite then start on the new days work. I thought that was how it was done and I developed a kind of a routine, but then he said he writes the first draft to the end without stopping and I remember thinking – but the writing won’t be any good, basically a lack of confidence and little understanding of the power of the subconscious. But it was my first novel so I thought, why not, have a go. So I wrote the second half of the novel without editing it as I went, it was a little nervy as it was a bit more of a roller coaster ride, but I discovered that I quite liked that and really got into the zone much more quickly, wrote much more and finished it within a couple of months. When I reread it, it was okay too.

    I belonged at the time to a writing group of 4 women and I spoke to them about the two halves and they said I should try to do both things, inject some pace into the first half but also that there was value in the first half that I shouldn’t dispense with. I look at it now and see that there is more description and back story in the first half and the second half is getting on with the story, so I have tried to even it out, but I’m so glad I took the plunge and challenged myself out of my comfort zone. I also used to write longhand and then transfer it into my computer, so I also decided at that point to type directly into the computer and now I only write longhand when I’m out and about – which is often – but it tends to be essays or short stories. Definitely like to experiement and observe, so much to learn 🙂

    • Amy Isaman on October 9, 2011 at 8:27 pm

      That’s fascinating. You described my process almost to a T, until this weekend. I would mostly write by hand, sometimes on the computer, then type it up and edit. I got stuck quite a bit and would go back to my outline to see “what came next.” This weekend, I had the house to myself and was planning on getting lots of writing done. I read your post Friday morning and then on my way home from a friend told me about a painting workshop she had just done where she just “surrendered to the process” and started in the middle and worked her way out. I listened, decided that the universe was trying to tell me something, and put my outline away. Since Friday night, I’ve written over 10,000 words!! I did it all in random scenes, just whatever bubbled up next, I wrote. I even wrote the last two scenes and realized that my book is not ending how I thought it was, but I like this ending so much better than what I had “planned.” So, I owe you a huge thank you for commenting and sharing your process. It was a true gift.

      • Claire on October 10, 2011 at 6:58 am

        Oohh, how wonderful you had that time to try it out and jumped right in. Reading your post gave me goosebumps, I love that you found that place where things come up and surprise you and they are not what is necessarily planned. I love it when that happens. Its a form of channelling the story I guess.

        I too will never forget that first day I just let get and wrote, I wrote almost 4,000 words in one day, a feat I had never before achieved, because I stopped thinking and editing and just wrote and wasn’t held back by the previous days work or any other distractions.

        Good luck and keep going, its a wonderful journey.

        • Amy Isaman on October 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm

          It is a wonderful journey – thank you.

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