The lessons may have gotten off to a rare and beautiful start, but my (real-life, not fictional) bike-riding saga then proceeded to run into all kinds of setbacks this summer–travel, houseguests, plummeting self-confidence, dead household appliances, no time, questioning the sanity of the endeavor, and so on. The rest unraveled at the speed of a piece of writing coming apart at the seams. The bike sat in the garage, its presence only serving to lower my belief in the entire project.
Does this sound like writing to you?
Today I forced myself to put the helmet on, because once I have done that and wheeled the bike out into the cul-de-sac, there is no going back. It’s akin to turning the computer on and forcing myself to look at yesterday’s draft of the nonfiction work I’m in the thick of at the moment. Then I walked the bike down to the park. I confess I thought it best to get in the saddle a couple of blocks away from home, where I’d be making a fool of myself in the presence of strangers rather than neighbors.
I got on, and managed to navigate a more or less straight line to the end of the paved trail. Great, I thought. I’ll just ride back and repeat. But back was ever so slightly uphill and somehow my best efforts tanked. Several wobbles later, it was perfectly plain that things were not going well. Breathe. Handlebars. Focus. Brakes at the ready. Kick off. Nope-nope-nope. All I got for my pains was a lot of tipping and stalling.
Then the woman bagging her recycling in the house across the road called out, “It’ll be easier if you just get on a slope and ride down.”
Oh. It sounded logical. Why couldn’t I see that on my own? For the same reason, perhaps, that I can’t see the forest for the trees in my own writing.
“Let the bike roll down on its own,” she said. “Really.”
I did. It worked.
I walked the thing back to the other end. Piece of cake. Well, almost but almost was good enough. Walked up. Rode down. Again. And again. It wasn’t always perfect. Twice, I ended up on the grass. But I put in my half-hour. Ten repeats, and I felt halfway capable of doing it all over again tomorrow.
Getting back to the work in progress, I decided to apply the lessons of the day. I read my partial chapter from yesterday looking for a slope to ride down. I found the single paragraph that I knew instinctively would give me momentum. I began writing there, keeping that energy going, pedaling through while keeping my eyes on the horizon of the chapter’s vision. It worked. I made it to the end. It’s not perfect, but it’s moving along. And more to the point, rolling to the end in this way leaves me feeling capable of tackling the work again tomorrow.
It’s all in the mind, but when you harness the gravity of your own draft, you’re letting the words carry you along the natural slope of the work’s landscape. As with a swale that channels flowing water, downhill is sometimes the best way.