Imagine you’re a cross-country skier pushing to get up a hill. The sky is dazzling blue, the air is crisp and you’re dressed perfectly for the weather. Your right boot is pinching your baby toe, but that minor irritation fades as you reach the top of the hill and look out at a wide expanse of sparkling, untracked snow on the down slope.
A clump of white-frosted blue spruce on the left calls your eye; skiing through the trees could be both beautiful and challenging.
There are so many ways you could go, so many possible routes. You could ski here all day and still have options. This is going to be FUN!
You probably should spend time exploring your options before you head down hill, but you’re eager to get started. You know you want to head toward the trees. You can figure the rest of the route as you go. So you push off.
You crouch over your skis, poles tucked tight against your sides, gathering speed. The wind makes your eyes water. You don’t notice it, but your breathing is faster and shallower. Your brain is flooding itself with dopamine, the feel-good neurotransmitter. You shout in exhilaration.
The trees grow larger. You straighten up a little, trying to slow your skis, but you have so much momentum now. You drag your poles and struggle to snowplow your skis, but you can’t seem to dump speed fast enough.
The trees rush past you on the left. You inhale sharply and hold your breath because you now see an enormous cliff opening in front of you. Maybe an expert could handle the leap and land without injury, but you know it would kill you.
Your limbic system pours adrenaline and cortisol into the mix whirling in your brain and body. You finally manage to pull your skies to the left just in time to avoid the drop off.
You whip into and past trees. You duck and swerve as needle-tipped branches leap out at you, desperately trying to avoid slamming into one of the shaggy trunks.
In a few minutes the snow that found its way down your neck and up your back will start to melt and your fear will give way to discomfort and embarrassment.
This was your first draft of your novel (or any other big piece of writing). It looked like fun at the start. It was fun – until you crashed.
The crash is why you need to scout the route – when skiing or writing.
If you’d like to know how to scout the route without losing the thrill, consider my Entering the Flow class at the Loft Literary Center.
Next post: The other reason you need to scout the route.