Inspired by Terror

According to the description and rating, this is similar to what I was climbing in the gym.I climb. Rocks. Well, rock walls at gyms mostly. But I climb. I took a few years off after the birth of my second son, but I started back up a few months ago. Now that I’ve gotten my rhythm and some of my ability back, I’ve started to lead climb. You may have been to a climbing gym before (maybe not). Most of the ropes are connected to the ceiling in some way with one person on the back end (the belayer) and the other climbing. This is called top-roping. The rope is always above you and you focus solely on climbing. The belayer keeps the rope fairly tight so that, if you fall, it arrests your fall quickly.

Lead climbing is different. With lead climbing, you drag the rope behind you as you climb. You clip in quickdraws (a small length of very strong cord with a carabiner at each end) to hangers attached to the wall and clip your rope into the other carabiner on the draw. If you fall, the rope, now through the carabiner in the draw, is usually below you. This makes falls much more dangerous and, consequently, the climbs are much more stressful (plus harder since you have to stop and clip in the draw and the rope while hanging on to the wall). After the break you’ll see a video describing all of this. The point, however, is that climbing is like writing – just as much work and pain and sweat goes in, just as much fear and insecurity come out, and when you fall, it can be terrifying. But when you succeed, when you get to the top, it can be just as exhilarating. 


Lead climbing takes the climbing experience to a whole new level. When you are top roping, there really is very little fear of falling. Climbing becomes a question of ability and technique. You try, you fail, you fall, you try again. What you don’t do is fear. Sure, it can be scary for the first timers, but after a while, you don’t think about the height. It’s all about the climb. Hell, I’ve been on the wall and not noticed the gym filling up with people until I came down. You are very much in the moment.

Lead climbing is different. Falls become particularly dramatic. In the case of the lead climb I was attempting, you climb to the top of the wall and then about three meters across the ceiling. There is a bit of a side wall to brace your feet against but you are basically climbing upside down. When I first tried the climb, I got to the ceiling portion and literally freaked out. I came down, eyes wide, head shaking side-to-side, thinking, No way, man. That’s not me. My hands were quivering, my blood was pumping, and I was sure I would never attempt that climb again.

Fast forward two days and I’m back in the gym. My climbing partner wants to attempt that lead climb again. I told him I didn’t. So, after his attempt, he offered me a different, easier lead. But something (probably misplaced machismo) wouldn’t let me back down. So I gave it another go.

There was a moment, when I was switching from climbing up the wall to across the ceiling, that was soul-crushing in its intensity. I was beyond terrified. I had to move my feet 90° from the main wall to the side wall. Basically, I had my hands on some climbing holds hanging from the ceiling and my feet planted on the side wall opposite.  I wasn’t stepping on anything, the tension alone was what was keeping me from falling. But the transition was the tough part. Switching my body orientation, knowing that if I fell I would certainly hit the wall hard enough to break a bone (at least in my mind), was enough, the first time, to send me scampering down. This time, however, I said (quite literally, I think everyone heard me), “Just do it, Tom.”

After that point, I didn’t think about falling any more. I didn’t think about my fear. I didn’t think about injury, broken bones, or death. All I thought was, “Move that hand. Good. Feet feel good. Now clip the rope. Cool, if you fall, you won’t hit the wall now. Move your feet. Next hold looks good. Cool, it is. Now clip…” and on. I wasn’t thinking about climbing, I was climbing. I was so intent on doing what needed to be done, that I couldn’t think about failing or how failure would feel. I just needed to finish.

When I did, I was exhilarated. As much as I was freaked out after my first, failed, attempt, I was that much more thrilled when I completed the climb. So much so, I did it again a few minutes later. And you know what? Starting that climb, moving onto the ceiling, all of it, was just as scary the second and third and fourth times.

I’m finding that writing is like that. When you are writing for yourself or a small group (a class or teacher), it is like climbing with a top rope. Sure, it can be fun and technical. It can be rewarding and educational. But there is always that part, in the back of your mind, that knows it doesn’t really count. That, if you wanted to, you could move away from these people, this college, this town, this state, this country, and never see those people again. That’s your top rope. Writing and publishing for the world to see, that’s the lead climbing of writing. When you put something out the for general consumption, there are no take-backs. There is no moving away. The Internet is forever. Even if you unpublish or delete your work, it is still out there, somewhere. It’ll be archived, saved, and accessible. If you fail, it’ll be out there for the world to see, forever. Terrified? I was.

But the rewards are that much greater. Sure, I’ve gotten my fair share of bad reviews but I’ve also had some like this:

Please by the love of sweet baby buddha would Tom Andry write more Bob Moore novels! This was fantastic. I would pay for future installments. LINK

Unsolicited, unexpected, and totally wonderful. That’s a person that got more enjoyment out of my work than I ever would have dared hope. Reviews like that make all the risk worthwhile. So, if you are thinking of writing and you are afraid of negative feedback, all I can say is that it goes with the territory. But, to get one, just one, review like the one above…well, if that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will.

To finish the climbing analogy, when you are focused on writing, really focused, and the characters are speaking to you and your fingers can barely keep up with your mind, you aren’t thinking about writing. You are writing. Those passages, chapters, can be just as exhilarating. In No Hero, the flashback scene, where it is revealed what happened to Bob’s daughter, was like that for me. When I finished it, I stood up from my computer, shaking. My mind was racing and I was a complete mess for the next few hours. I took a wrong turn on the way to pick up my kids from school, I kept forgetting where I was going…I was completely discombobulated. A wonderfully terrifying feeling. Even without the reviews, getting that feeling back, that feeling that you are channeling your characters rather than creating them, would be motivation enough to continue writing. At least for me. But, in all honesty, when I sit down to write, when I have my pointer hovering over the “Publish” button, it is just as terrifying as the first time.