He puts out his left hand and digs his fingertips into the tiniest crack in the rock. Then, with his right foot turned perpendicular to his body, he lifts himself up 14 inches before releasing his right hand to find another crevice just over his ear. Left foot, left hand, right foot, right hand. All the way to the top.
All without ropes.
Alex Honnold is a free soloist, a rock climber who scales rock faces without a partner or any safety equipment beyond chalk, gloves, and the right shoes. His passion is to take risk, and when you see his face at the summit, it’s easy to see why – he practically glows with joy.
There is reward in taking the risks we have put before us.
As writers, we don’t really risk our bodies to do our work (although some days, I think “Andi the Hunchback” will be my old lady nickname – I just sat up straighter), but we do risk our inner selves by laying them bare for others to see. At least, we risk that when we write well and true. That’s some scary stuff.
Maybe that’s why so many us of become perfectionists – we think that we if we just get it “right,” then we can avoid ridicule or shame or embarrassment. I know I feel that way – just one more edit, just one more piece of research, just one more round of feedback, then it’ll be ready.
The thing is there is no perfect in writing.
A work can always be better. Just read 10 pages of any of the “great” novels – Moby Dick, Beloved, Tristram Shandy- with a critical eye, and you’ll find sentences that are awkward or paragraphs that are too wordy. A piece of writing is never perfect.
We fear that because we fear that we will be critiqued and judged. And we may well be. But what’s the alternative?
The alternative to avoiding critique and judgment is to never write.
That’s a viable option, and if you can take it, by all means, do. But then, please don’t spend your whole life regretting that you didn’t take the risk to write.
Because the truth is, when we accept the risk as part of the process, when we know we could be banged up on the rocks or fail before we reach the summit, we are free. . . we can climb through words without a single rope to catch us, and we can be so overjoyed when, on a day where the clouds have hidden themselves, we reach the summit.
No one has done anything great without risk. I’m sure Andy Goldsworthy had scoffers when he said he was going to make sculptures from ice. I’m certain Mother Theresa had people dismiss her when she said she was going to care for the sick and dying. I am beyond positive that Alex Honnold had friends who dismissed him as crazy or selfish or reckless. But still, they did it.
For me, I’m choosing the Honnold approach – all in with no way down but to climb up. I can’t imagine a better life.
How about you? Are you willing to assume the risks of writing? Are you willing to assume the risks if you don’t?
Here’s Alex Honnold climbing Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Pay attention to what he says about doubt and stalling out . . . and how he overcomes.