In my earlier days, when I had younger knees, I loved to go backpacking in the mountains of northern New England. My favorite place to hike was the Lafayette ridge in Franconia Notch, New Hampshire. The exposed ridge goes on for a mile and half along a knife edge, from the summit of Mt. Lafeyette across Mt. Lincoln to Little Haystack. For the entire way, there are magnificent views in all directions, that is, if the weather cooperates. And there’s the rub. The mountains of northern New England host some of the most violent and unpredictable weather on earth.
I made six attempts to climb the ridge, succeeding in only four. In the two others I was forced to turn back due to high winds that took my breath way. Each time, I’d park at the trail head, stare up at the craggy summit, and steel myself for the ascent. I was both exhilarated and scared, knowing how hard it would be, how far I had to go, and how the possibility always existed that I’d make a wrong choice and have to turn back. But always there was the upside of that magnificent view if I succeeded.
I’m reminded of that experience this week as I begin work on my fourth novel, the sequel to There Comes a Prophet. While writing a novel is easier on the knees, it’s a lot more work, a commitment of a year or more. It’s also fraught with risk, where one bad decision can lead down a thorny path that leads to nowhere or worse to a cliff you don’t see until it’s too late.
But worst of all, there’s always the possibility that you won’t find your way to the end, that some obdurate character will rebel or some miscreant plot element will rear its ugly head and shout: “No! You’re wrong! There’s no story to be found here.”
But as I once again venture into the literary woods and take my first tentative steps along the path of blank pages, I’m reminded that, like with backpacking, there’s the hope of reaching that glorious summit. And that, after all, is why we writers write.
David Litwack, author of There Comes a Prophet, Along the Watchtower, and The Daughter of the Sea and the Sky