How Writing a Novel is Like Hiking the Grand Canyon


by Terri J. Huck

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The Grand Canyon’s Hermit Trail is named for a man who was called a hermit because he lived alone, but he was in fact active in the local community. Sounds like the balance between writer and author!

I’ve been thinking about writing and running and my colleague Jessica Lyons’ blog post last week about almost running a marathon.

I run somewhat regularly but not because I love it. When a co-worker once asked me why I do it, I said so that I could do other things. Her face lit up and she said, “Like drink wine?” I meant hiking (though drinking wine isn’t a bad reward).

Marathons don’t interest me, but if someone proposed a rim-to-rim hike of the Grand Canyon, I couldn’t start training fast enough.

Several years ago, I hiked to the bottom of the canyon and back out again with my boyfriend (now husband). We used an unmaintained trail, which meant we weren’t on those wide, soft trails the Park Service keeps looking nice for tourists. The Hermit Trail is often narrow, often on the edge of a precipitous drop, often hard to see. If there’s been a rock slide across the trail, you have to clamber over the boulders.

It took us most of a day to hike the 10-plus miles down to the Colorado River and another even longer day to hike back out. In addition to difficult terrain, we were dealing with altitude (the South Rim of the canyon is nearly 7,000 feet above sea level), blazing sun (there’s very little shade), and packs so heavy with camping supplies that they played havoc with our balance. Once we started down that trail, we knew the only way out was our own two/four feet, and we’d be climbing up the whole way. (The Park Service won’t come get a hiker just because he or she is tired. And those who do get injured must be prepared to pay thousands of dollars for a rescue.)

On the plus side, relatively few people hike all the way into the canyon so the silence is profound and therapeutic, and the scenery is stunning.

That experience—plus the preparation, the hard work, and the single-minded focus on the end goal, which fueled the determination to make it past every obstacle—reminds me very much of the challenge of writing a novel.

My husband and I have gotten much better at preparing for backpacking trips, but on our first epic adventure in the Grand Canyon, he had to talk me through those last couple of very steep miles back to the top (although telling someone she only has to walk up the equivalent of 21 flights of stairs when she’s already exhausted might not be the best strategy). He pointed out markers and told me to focus on small milestones like that creosote bush, that bend in the trail, that boulder. When I finally stumbled within view of the parking lot, I yelled, “I see the car!” with such excitement that other hikers laughed.

The sense of accomplishment was amazing. And I couldn’t have done it without him. That, too, is not unlike the challenge of writing a novel. Though we often toil alone, so many people cheer us on along the way, offer valuable feedback, or keep us from quitting by asking how that novel’s coming.

And that’s just the beginning. Once we’re ready to publish a book, there is a dizzying set of new challenges: production, marketing, self-promotion. That’s why I was so excited when Jess and Meredith Maslich first told me about their idea for the Writer2Author series of workshops and their goal of helping writers manage the transition to published author. That sort of teamwork is invaluable on the journey. It’s the difference between bushwhacking a trail through the wilderness alone and making your way with the support of experienced guides.

Click here for all the details on Writer2Author. And whatever route you choose to take, enjoy the journey!

Terri J. Huck is an editor and managing partner at Possibilities Publishing Company. She blogs about researching and writing historical fiction at TheSmellOfGunsmoke.com.

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