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.
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.