Wednesday, March 9, 2016

On writing and climbing

Wisdom from the latest edition of Alpinist magazine

It is not possible to write well without reading well. They go hand-in-hand like rope and rock. And, just as it is not possible to climb well without climbing meticulously, it is not possible to write well without writing meticulously, which inevitably requires many drafts. This is the craft. To refine over and over. To distill. Sloppy writing is as abhorrent and doomed to failure as sloppy climbing. 

What matters most in the mountains is economy. Moving quickly, efficiently, and thoughtfully. So too in writing. Occam's Razor should shave every sentence. And just like a good hand jam, you can feel a good sentence. It is secure, unadorned and moves the reader forward with unaffected grace. 

Strunk & White is right: the elements of style are clarity, precision and a reliable ear. You acquire these by years of reading and revising until the rhythm of your sentences becomes as natural as footfalls along an alpine path. "Writing good standard English is no cinch, and before you have managed it you will have encountered enough rough country to satisfy even the most adventurous spirit."

Similarly, writing maxims, which we writers regularly fail to live up to, apply equally well to climbing. For example, replace the word "writing" with the word "climbing" in the following literary axioms: don't talk about what you're going to write, write it; what's wrong with your writing is what's wrong with you; don't take your writing too seriously, lightheartedness is its own salvation; finish what you start; practice, practice, practice.

Mark Jenkins, The Bighorn Writers Convention, Alpinist 53

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