Amy Klinger

Happyish Trails

Yesterday was a stellar weather day: cloudless and 70s, breezy and bursting with birdsong and the greenest greenery of early summer. I played hooky, tagging along with my “summers-off” husband to a mountain biking area we hadn’t been to in over a decade.

More than any other sport I do, mountain biking seems to have a knack for imparting lessons that feel like metaphors for this writing journey. Yesterday’s lesson (one I seem to re-learn every time I hit a challenging trail) was particularly relevant: When you get stopped by a hard section, go back and try it again. And again. And maybe even again.

Twice yesterday, I found myself resisting that lesson. The sections were steep and rocky. The mosquitoes were relentless. I was tired, and the flowing downhill part was just ahead. I simply didn’t want to get off my bike, walk it back 20 feet, clip back in and risk getting shut down again (or worse, injured­) by a nasty snare of rocks and roots.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t my internal fortitude that got me to give these sections another go; it was the playful trash talk of my husband who had successfully navigated them before me. Sometimes we need a nudge.

And that’s just what I got last week in the form of the most encouraging rejection letter from an agent I’ve received so far. The gist was she liked quite a lot of the first 50 pages that I’d sent back in April (see “A Bite”), and that she waffled back and forth on requesting the full manuscript. But citing a couple of things that were challenging for her, she ultimately decided to pass.

Rejections, even positive ones, sting. On face value, this one left me feeling down and frustrated. After sitting with the feedback for a couple of days, I decided to write back to see if, were I to address her concerns in a substantial not superficial way, would she consider giving it another read. In other words, get off my bike, go back and try a different approach to getting through. Her reply came 10 minutes later, warmly inviting me to resubmit when I was ready.

But here’s the thing you should know about those second attempts on the bike yesterday: neither of them was successful. Platitudes don’t always play nicely with actual experience. Making changes to the manuscript—after having already done several hefty revisions—may not ultimately prove fruitful. And the effort certainly won’t be quick or simple. Yes, I get that the bigger lesson is I should come out on the other side with a stronger manuscript. And really, I am keenly aware that the revision process is far from over if an agent signs on. Still, when your writing (riding) time is limited, backtracking and holding off on exploring new territory can feel kind of a drag.

So before I reunite with characters I had put on the shelf for a rest, I thought I would share a few other mountain biking lessons that also feel like metaphors for writing. And in being metaphors for writing, they’re really metaphors for living.

  1. Sometimes the path of least resistance is going over rather than around your obstacle.
  2. The sweeter the downhill, the sweatier the uphill. Vice versa if you’re an optimist.
  3. If you focus on the tree, you will hit the tree.
  4. Technology (in my case, a sweet new ride) can make the work easier, but you still own all the effort.
  5. Anticipate the trail by looking beyond what’s just in front of your wheel.

That last one is actually where my approaches to biking and writing diverge. When I first decided I was writing a novel and feeling completely overwhelmed, my dear friend @NathanHartswick offered some advice that resonated: “When you’re starting a drive cross-country, you don’t obsess about how far away San Francisco is. You just focus on what’s in the headlights, and the miles will slowly roll away.

Focus on what’s in the headlights.” It’s my mantra whenever I start to feel the creep of emotional paralysis. It’s what I will tell myself, yet again, when I break open that manuscript tomorrow night.

10 thoughts on “Happyish Trails”

  1. the fact that you have the strength to go back and try again already makes you a winner in my book

    • I seem to recall thinking the same thing when you tried skiing for the first time during a blizzard.

  2. Of course, sometimes it’s easier to pick a line if you know where you’re going, so don’t feel too ashamed of scouting ahead to chapter 2 (or 7), and if it gets really sketchy, don’t clip in.

  3. Really great insight and wisdom, Amy. Think I could use a little more cherishing of that sweet downhill 🙂 Thank you for sharing.

    • You’ve certainly got some good trails by you, Lou. Thanks for reading and thanks for the encouragement.

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