Why climb that mountain?

It’s dusk, and all I can see is tattered, shredded dark clouds against the last dusty orange-pink of a sky paling into purple blackness, with the flat line of a dark sea and the silhouette of dark cape thrusting out into it, with a solitary point of light near the end of it.

Working, as I often do, late into the night, I wish they’d turn that blasted light off. On the other hand… I suppose they can see mine. It’s around five miles away, and either the blackness surrounding it or brightness of it make it visible across the distance. A mind like mine always turns wondering why it is burning? Maybe… something prosaic, like it’s an outside light they never turn off. Maybe… they’re city people, afraid of dark (yes, we had some city visitors, once (not twice) who found our remote rural dwelling too dark and too quiet for them to sleep. They were supposed to stay a few days, but they left the next morning). Maybe… it’s like the candle burning in the window for the sailor or wayfarer, who has never come home. Or maybe someone working odd hours… at what?

Questions. I’m not much good at accepting ‘it just is’. There’s a story behind every one of those questions. Not necessarily a good or interesting story… but hey, I am a writer of stories. I will think of multiple possibilities, and cheerfully embellish and make plausible (even if only to myself) the one (or several) that make it it more interesting to me.

But to take that from there into a book or even a short story, well, that’s a mountain. It doesn’t have to be, of course… but molehills are not particularly interesting. And you see, it has to be interesting, not just to me but to someone else, if I want them to read it, and indeed to pay money for it.

Which brings one around to ‘why climb that mountain?’ Because it is there? Because no one else has been up it? Because the view from the top is terrific? Because it is fun? Because I will find a treasure (even if it only myself) up there… or getting up there? Because people will see I have climbed it and be impressed? Because I am going to show everyone how to climb? Because fame and fortune will come to me because of it? Or maybe because that screaming bastard NCO made me? Or… I dunno. It seemed a good at the time.

I’ve – over the years had a lot of people have – on hearing that I write – inform me they have always thought about writing a book.

I’ve also had a more than a few tell me they have this great idea for a book, if I write it and we can share the profits. Implied is that 1)I have no ideas myself, or they are piss-poor ones 2)That the idea is the hard part, and being a writer is as easy as flatulence (if not always as smelly), 3) their idea is brilliant and, unlike my lousy ones, will make them a fortune without the expenditure of any further effort, 4) I should be eternally grateful this, considering their generosity.

My answer always disappoints them terribly: “You should write it then.” (and no, I won’t do it for you. I try to omit the part about ‘and your idea is a rehash of a thousand others’. Who knows: rehashed ideas sometimes make great books. A great writer can make old and trite seem quite wonderful. They might just be that great writer. But I will not write it for them.)

I always follow that up with ‘why do you want to write it?’ Yes: the mountain above (and many of the same reasons). Surprisingly few people seem to have thought about it, to judge by the double-take this often causes. The answers vary, of course. There’s a proportion who will tell you each of reasons I gave for the mountain – even a few ‘because that screaming bastard NCO made me.’ The NCO is either their muse or their debt. And yes. A lot of ‘I dunno’.

None of them are, per se, bad reasons for writing the book.

Whether they are good reasons for getting it read by other people, is another matter entirely. If you want to cast that into deeper and further doubt, whether people think it worth paying to read, is another matter.

Look, if writing a book is going provide you with a challenge and experience (`because it is there’), or you believe you will write something no one else has (or could do better – something many will believe). The view from the top is indeed quite something – not always terrific, but certainly revealing. It is an achievement, and it is quite hard work for many of us. You may find a treasure in it, even if that treasure is understanding yourself or dealing with your problems or past. Do I want to read about it? Do you want me to read about it? Do you think I ought to pay for your psychotherapy? (answer: I won’t unless it interests me).

Some of these, accidentally, produce books someone might want to read, maybe even great books we all love, but they’re not written for that purpose. It’s more luck than judgement if they do. It’s kind of like a diabetic syringe being just what you need for paint for your piece of artwork. That’s no reason not write, but is reason not expect anyone else to want to read it.

The second half of those reasons for climbing the mountain (barring ‘dunno’) all hav one common feature: they aren’t for your inner self, but depend on what OTHERS make of your feat. It’s not always easy to get wannabe to realize this point, or to even admit it exists. “I have a great message” (I am going to show people how they ought to climb mountains) kinda depends on readers wanting to see how you climb. If you bore them squitless they’re not going to read it, let alone pay for it. As one the radical feminist dahlings of the Ugo awards said… if she could sell a copy for every person who crowded in to be seen attending her panels on how terrible men were… she’d make a living. Buying books is pretty secret, and coffee-table books to impress… doesn’t really spread your ideas, or sell many copies.

Fame, fortune etc. all follow getting read, and people liking it so much they’ll spend money in a fashion where no one knows what they spend it on. They’re not displaying virtue, because by and large, the people they would display to, are as convinced by their claiming to have read whatever it is, than by their actually spending the money that would cover a bottle of wine.

Would-be writers are remarkably deluded (me too, once) about the commercial realities of writing for a living, and what is involved. Some of it, sadly, is luck. That’s why you’ll read a book and think ‘how the hell did they get published, let alone get to be a bestseller?’ Sometimes it is literally nothing more than ‘right time, right place.’ More often there is much more to that ‘success’ than meets your eye. They may just appeal to a large set of people with whom you have nothing much in common. They may have a large enough base from outside writing to get the ball rolling, and the momentum carries them to an even wider audience. They may be having sex with the publisher who pushed them in repayment. They may be well-connected… etc. And, what you are seeing may also be the culmination of a hell of a long slog – or a combination of all of the above.

Or you could stick to ‘I dunno. It seemed like a good idea at the time.’

And now I am half-way up I don’t know how to get down…

30 comments

  1. Quiet!
    Suffering from tinnitus, for me, it is never totally quiet, but I, luckily am not bothered much by it. Background noise helps a little to get to sleep, but it doesn’t have to be anything certain. Having slept out in the boonies (here in the wilds of Michigan, a valley in West Virginia, and southwest Texas) and under the flight path of an airport, as well as within 100 yards of a railroad crossing (as a kid at least every 60 minutes a train could be going by during the peak, and I slept outdoors in a tent to escape the sisters in summer), none of these were totally quiet, even the quiet places. I’d bet your place isn’t either, but it wasn’t the noises your Cityfolk were used to. I have heard noises that I know would annoy a lot of people though and threatened to keep me up. Marion County Park in West By God Virginia has as background sound, the “Marion County Whine”. The mine ventilation fans howl rather loudly in the “quiet” of the night. Sounds like mud tires on asphalt without a doppler. I noted it, started drifting off until awakened by a wolf howling on the other side of the valley. WV claims no wolves, but they also claim the Cougars are not there any longer and they most certainly are there. Then the Whine was annoying as I was trying to hear if the critters were moving and it was just loud enough to cover any movement noises. A deer later walked through camp and I didn’t hear it until it was nearly just outside the tent. I got her to blow at me and stomp by talking too her quietly. Up in the Hiawatha Forest, it sounds like they are in the campsite, but are a good distance off, shuffling through their routes.
    The quietest place though was Kanawah State Park in WV. Deep valley, and while there is a road near the campground, one vehicle passed in the night, and a Horned Owl woke me. The raccoon might have, but I wasn’t asleep yet when it made an attempt at the trash can. Apparently they can’t get into them, but they test them nightly, just in case it got left open.

    1. If they claim no wolves and no cougars, they don’t have to put time and money into creating and executing a management plan for them.

  2. A neat thing about light– even an incredibly tiny one, and dim, can be seen miles away. It’s only when there is other light that a tiny light can blend away.

  3. Black Mesa, Oklahoma. No cars, just cattle bedded down for the night. A few night birds, and coyotes who kept their distance. The Great Pyrrenes dog encouraged their absence with a few “whoofs” when needed. It was very quiet to my medium-sized-town ears.

    I write because I can’t not write. As Kipling out it in “The Explorer” there’s a whisper “Something’s lost beyond the Ranges/Something Lost and Waiting, come!”

    1. I used to make the run from Little Rock to Colorado Springs several times a year. I was rolling on the two-lane between Dumas and Dalhart TX around 0300 one night when the back end of the bike started feeling strange. I’d picked up a nail in the tire somewhere after leaving the motel in Amarillo.

      After stopping I flipped my visor up, turned the bike off, and thought I’d gone blind for a moment. There was no light other than the stars. We don’t see much of those in the South, where it’s almost always hazy. Then I noticed the quiet; nothing but the occasional pings of hot metal contracting. Not even wind. I found a place without stickers to sit and wait for dawn; no reason to work in the dark. After the bike cooled off it was *really* quiet… the first car didn’t pass by until long after dawn. Not much traffic on that road.

      1. That’s definitely one of our roads less traveled by. The road along the northern rim of the Canadian Breaks that goes west to the NM border is another paved journey through solitude.

  4. Dark. True dark. I’ve always lived too close to civilization to actually experience it. Until one vacation . . . Must I admit I was over forty before I saw the Milky Way? I had no idea it was possible to see so many stars, and that the longer you stared at a spot the more you’d see. And they went deeper and deeper, forever.

    And quiet is much the same. There’s so much in it when it isn’t drowned out.

    Writing’s . . . an exploration for me, a “make up your own adventure.” The money nice, but without it . . . I’d probably still write, but never fix the typos. It might be wishful thinking, but it’s not therapy.

    1. I’ve lived out in the deep dark. The Milky Way is there bright enough to throw shadows.

      If you’ve never seen that, it’s well worth a trip to the backside of nowhere.

  5. > our remote rural dwelling too dark and too quiet for them to sleep.

    I’ve met people who had to have the radio or television on in order to sleep. The babble drives me nuts, but apparently they have to have some minimum level of background noise all the time.

    1. That’s what crickets and nightbirds and all the other wildlife are for! And the creek, too, it never shuts up. Sometimes it’s a very low burble, but that’s when the crickets are at their loudest.

  6. “I have this great idea and want you to write it”.

    I’m not a writer but I’ve seen some of those so-called “great ideas”. Sometimes the ideas are “old-worn-out-ideas” that only a very good writer could make enjoyable. Sometimes the ideas are just junk.

    Oh, I have “ideas” and “characters” but I know that it is hard to take those things and “make a story out of them”.

  7. I write, therefore I am…
    I wrote three books driven by an idea that wouldn’t let go until I finished them.
    Now I struggle to finish my next two stories/novels…
    Maybe I got better?

  8. I saw a headline the other day about migration of people to Freer states. I wonder if Dave or his kin have seen an influx of people.

    1. Must be one of the other Freer states. Seriously, the island has seen a 25% population increase since wuflu. But how much of that is permanent remains to be seen. It was slowly losing population before. There is really very little employment, and our local government actively screws up the ability to live here or make a living here.

  9. Why climb that mountain? because the damn thing is in my way!

    Hmm. Maybe I’ll go around. Yes. I’ll find a better route.

    1. A prudent donkey and not a silly dragon!

      (Castle Hangnail, where “Dragons have been known to have staring contests with mountains. They usually win.”)

  10. “Which brings one around to ‘why climb that mountain?”

    I used to climb them for a laugh. Get the ropes out on a sunny Saturday and go vertical. (I also used to weigh 165lbs soaking wet, was strong like bull, and had zero arthritis. It’s been a while.)

    The view is not why one climbs. The climb is why. The sheer excitement of pitting yourself against gravity where there’s nothing to hold onto and no point to being there at all.

    Writing is kind of the same for me. I’m writing to find out what happens. Having other people read it later and say they enjoyed it is nice, and money is nice, certainly. But this is like bragging rights that you cleaned a route that others fell off and had to rope down. It’s nice to be the King of the Hill for a day, but that’s not why you climbed it. The climb itself is why.

    Still, having written, now you have all these words sitting around. Best to put them to work, see if anything comes of it. ~:D This is what comes of having Scots ancestors.

  11. Thinking about the dark and quiet When the ex and I ended up in a really small town in Germany, at first it was too quiet for us to sleep. But when you aclimate to that, moving back to a large town hurts your ears. As far as dark, don’t go camping on a full moon night without something to shade your eyes. Dark, my fanny! I couldn’t sleep it was so bright.

    1. you read about people living in the country (before vehicle or street lights) scheduling evening get-togethers for full-moon nights. It does make a huge difference

  12. Why climb that mountain?
    Because it’s there, and I’m the one here to climb it. What else am I going to do, sit for the rest of my life staring up at it and not going anywhere? That’s not much of a life.

    Unfortunately, the first mountain I climbed, it wasn’t the summit so much as the ascent – the learning that I could do it. And then, I realized there was another mountain beyond it. Given what I’ve learned, now maybe I can do it better the next time?

    Then I started sharing the trail map I’d made on the way up, and realized maybe I could make it better for them. And when I realized they were doing it to escape from their lives a while, why, I try to make it the best mountain climb I can for ’em.

    But really, it’s because it’s there. And I don’t get to go rest high on that mountain, because there’s yet more work to be done.

  13. Why do I climb the mountain? Many reasons. Because the stories are there and if I don’t write them, who will? Because I’m tired of having very little to read. Because I enjoy it… Because I’ve done verbal story telling and there is something about the audience enjoying listening as much as you’re enjoying the telling makes the heart swell with joy. So I write so I can share the wonder and the magic of the story. (The story is magic. I am not magic.)

    My stories are not so grand. But I miss stories about adventures and kids rising to the occasion and unlikely heroes who are heroic. I miss stories of hope and courage. I miss so many of the ideas that are called trite and worn out. So I write, and maybe there’s someone else out there missing them too. And so I muddle through the publishing as well, because if there IS someone else out there missing those stories, they can’t get at my attempt if I don’t put it out there.

  14. After trying, I realized that I do not want to climb the mountain. I’m content to sit at the base and admire it. I still have story ideas, but I’ve realized that that is the easy part. The plot in the middle? The dialog? The research to write something that isn’t trite? The stories in my head don’t need those. The stories on paper do.

    I may give it another try, some day, but it is no longer a goal.

    Much to my surprise, I’ve rediscovered my enjoyment of computers. It can be frustrating (how many web pages of “put the Z-wave controller in exclusion mode” can one read before someone finally reveals the mystical secret of how to actually DO IT?!?! Hint: Not enough; I’m this idiot), but I like making things work, even if they are virtual things.

    Making a story work is another thing entirely and I’ve found I don’t enjoy it. I very glad that y’all do (or at least suffer through it)!

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