On Books and Backpacking

I took the last week of August off and headed out on a backpacking trip in the Olympic Peninsula. Northern Washington state is home to Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest. It’s a protected area of mountains, glaciers, old-growth forest, and subalpine meadows. 

We spent each day walking long distances in old-growth groves in the valley and wildflower-filled meadows in the mountains. We ate blueberries and huckleberries, the same diet of the twelve bears we saw alongside the trail. We camped each night under the stars—in a forest, beside an alpine lake, or on the banks of the Quinault River. 

While hanging out my clothes on the line this morning, I noticed the similarities between making books and backpacking.

Simplicity: Backpacking rewards those who pack light. One of our first tasks when we returned was to weigh all our gear and see what we could have done without. What equipment could we share, upgrade, or discard for future trips? The same is true of your writing. What’s weighing you down? What could you cut? I promise you won’t miss it.

Company: I’m an avid hiker but this was my first time backpacking. I went with someone who has lots of experience in the backcountry, specifically this area of the Olympics. We each have unique strengths—he’s great at reading maps, and I’m great at telling jokes, sharing stories, and leading us in “what if?” scenarios. You can’t be good at everything (yet) so where do you need help along the way? Maybe you need a creative coach as an accountability partner, or a research assistant, or an editor to help you shape your outline. Whether writing or publishing, it’s all about the company you keep.

Equipment: A lot of gear will last you a lifetime, but not all gear is meant to last, like my 22-year-old (!) boots, which I retired after this trip. What got you there won’t necessarily get you here. Which ideas can you carry forward in your writing, and which better served you in an earlier iteration of your work and yourself? How can you celebrate their retirement instead of simply discarding them?

Achievement: Hiking at least 20 miles a day with daily elevation gains of 2000 m deserves to be celebrated. There was no sense in saving our “woohoo, we did it!” for the end…when we completed a challenging scramble or long slog, we rewarded ourselves with chocolate, a massage, and a stretch. Writing a book is a marathon not a sprint. How can you celebrate each stage?  

Spend it all: Backpacking uses a LOT of energy. You won’t do yourself any favours by bringing food that lacks nutritional value, or by rationing your food and water. Make sure you have enough, and spend it all. Creativity is generative and can never be used up. Gather the best research and stories that will fuel your readers. Share your best ideas, don’t hoard them.

If you’re looking for a creative partner to walk the path with you, drop me a line.

One response to “On Books and Backpacking”

  1. Loved this! I always liken writing to running, but you’ve taken it one step further and compared it to hiking. And going 20 miles a day with a heavy backpack? That’s crazy awesome. Thanks for sharing!

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