Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Terrified? Don't Neglect the Scenery

by Susan

I spent the week after Labor Day peering over the edges of cliffs, stomach quivering. I never thought of myself as afraid of heights before, but I had vertigo overload. At night, in the hotel, post-precipice anxiety fits.

The man in my life and I first went to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison: 1,700 feet deep, stark walls, seemingly straight down. Pictures do not capture how terrifying it is. I clung to the fence rail on the overlook, light-headed.

Then to the Colorado National Monument. It wasn't as deep, but they actually warn you that if you're afraid of heights you should drive it from Fruita to Grand Junction, not Grand to Fruita. Guess which direction we drove first, at the end of a long day of driving. Switchbacks on a cliff edge where you turn sharply right on the edge. Every other curve felt like we were about to drive off into space.

None of it unnerved me, though, as much as the Forest Service road we went down: Lands End Road, or Lands End of the World Road, as I called it -- wicked switchbacks, rapid loss in elevation. The road, only wide enough for one car in spots, picks its way down the edge of the Grand Mesa along sheer, rocky dropoffs. It was marked as a scenic drive on the Colorado map, and the intel from the locals at the German restaurant in Delta was that it could be done in a car. They neglected to give us any details beyond that.

I didn't want to go down it. My husband did. He was driving...

And it was gorgeous. At the end, my husband said, "That was a once in a lifetime drive, wasn't it?" He was right. It was amazing.

Sadly, I had been too wrapped up in my own fear to truly experience it. I didn't even take photos.

What does this have to do with writing? Or anything, really?

Writing terrifies me sometimes, quite frankly. I stare anxiously at the screen. I write a sentence, then delete it, thinking it's lame. Write, delete, write, delete. Wash, rinse repeat. There's a reason I do all my first drafts with pen and paper -- I can't delete them down to nothing before I even get going.

All I could think of on that road was falling. All I can think of when I write is failing.

And when I get that way, there is so much joy in the journey I'm missing. I'm missing out on the feeling of making something, whether it's worthy of public consumption or not. I miss the joy of finding the right word. I miss the play of consonants and vowels when something just sounds right. I miss giving credence to my thoughts, my ideas.

The joy of writing is in the writing. Don't miss the scenery.


  1. I hear you, Susan. I was in southwest Colorado after Labor Day, too. I did not ride the Million Dollar Highway from Ouray to Durango for the same reason. I cut off at Ridgeway and went to Cortez. No steep drop offs but a snake of a road. It was fun for awhile, then I got tired. And the snake kept going, and going, to Dolores.

    I really do like the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Didn't stop this trip. Love the views down into the canyon; it's a geologist's dream place.

    A few years ago, a couple of fellow GWRRA member talked me into riding across the Royal Gorge Bridge with them. Holy cow! It's one thing to walk across it. Talk about white knuckles. Did okay until we had to stop for all the people crossing in front of us. You could feel the bridge sway under you. Gulp. The ride from the far side back to Canon City was wonderful. Had I not faced down my fear of heights, I would have never taken that ride. It was good to have someone to ride with that time.

    The land I ride through or traipse around in sometimes becomes a character in my writing, forming and shaping it.

    Keep your eyes wide open. Scream if you must. Remember to breathe. It's worth it.

    1. Haven't tried the Royal Gorge Bridge yet, but maybe I'll have to. It has to be a completely different experience doing these things on a motorcycle instead of in a car.

  2. Perhaps one of these days, one of your characters will have to face a drive or a ledge like that and you'll be able to write those feelings down on the page. I like the idea of writing first drafts to preserve the text so you can't do a select all and delete. And some people pay good money to go to scary movies. ;-)

    1. Oooo! I like that idea! And yes, all my first drafts tend to start with pen and paper, so I can't delete.

  3. I am TERRIFIED of heights so I can identify. It would be so much easier to relax and enjoy a trip like yours if you knew you'd live through it! But there's no fast forward button with life that you can use to skip ahead and make sure. Darn it! I'd take a lot more risks if I knew they would work out. But then they wouldn't be risks. (And I would be totally fine with that.)

    I agree with Art- writing with pen is a good idea. Who knows what genius you might delete otherwise?

    1. I'm not much of a risk-taker these days. I was when I was younger, and I miss that sense of invincibility. I think too much in terms of what could go wrong these days.


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