Author's note: This post was first published October 27th, 2010. Please feel free to comment. As I am busy climbing a mountain now, I'll respond to all comments when I return. Thanks!
When we paid a visit to Rome in July, I snapped this picture of an outdoor stone staircase near the Colloseum.
The wear and tear on those steps, the way the curves seemed to speak of a several hundred years-long process of people walking up and down them and wearing them down, really fascinated me. If my travel companions hadn't been tugging gently on my sleeve--"Come on," they urged. "We have a ton to see!"--then I probably would have spent the morning taking a million and one snapshots of this set of stairs.
Many images and objects I come across in daily life make me think of writing, and the writing process. My environment gets me thinking, or, rather, I puzzle at the writing process utilizing an objet du jour--a set of stairs, for example!--as a sort of lense through which I filter my thoughts.
In this case, the steps made me wonder about the stages involved in writing, in the step-by-step process of taking the barest seed of an idea, developing it, first-drafting, marching right through Revision Hell (sometimes more than once!), getting beta and second-reader eyes on it, querying, and if everything goes really well, maybe even finding an agent and getting the durn thing published. What we all hope for, right?
The staircase becomes a metaphor. What could be simpler. But looking at that staircase, another set of thoughts hit me. As the steps led from the most ancient part of the city to the Colloseum, no doubt they were heavily travelled. Over the years, countless travellers on their way to Gladiator Games or Chariot Races must have climbed or descended them with nary a thought as to their construction, or with any true understanding of their utility.
Yet there must have been a certain class of citizen--perhaps the Colloseum workers or the Senatorial runners (whose job it was to run messages back and forth all over the city--the ancient equivalent of e-mail)--who knew those steps better than anyone, who knew every crease in the stones, the measure of every riser, the missing knots and blemishes worn slick by sandal and shoe, who knew the spots to avoid, the safe passage.
After all, they'd been up and down those steps a whole lot more than the average bear, fallen a few times, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off. They'd successfully traversed those stairs in darkness, sometimes when the rains blew in, or in the newday light of morning when the stones were slick with dew. Those few had skipped the tricks of the trade and learned the trade instead, a process which granted them a wisdom not shared by their peers.
Their continued success was built on that wisdom.
As writers, I think we share the same challenge. The best way up the hill may not be the fastest, or the safest, or the easiest, but it's up to us to discover what works, to uncover our own set of rules. As I thought about this, and tarried to marvel at those majestic stone steps, I realized when it comes to writing, my stairway looks a lot like this:
Clearly, I have plenty of work to do. :D But I am committed. I want to keep building, learning, discovering. Someday, I want my writing process to feel as weatherworn and understood and real as those beautiful Roman steps.
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But wait! The story's not over yet! Hours later, over a beer and in a goofier state-of-mind, I wondered what the stairs for different types of fiction would look like. I mean, would Horror look different from Science Fiction?
After some snooping and hunting around on the intertubes, here's what I came up with. Enjoy!