Last weekend was deer opener in Minnesota. As I sat in the stand, I thought back to a November morning several years ago, when I found myself sitting in a deer stand near the crack of dawn in the north woods. The season was colder than usual, and before the sun rose, I’d fully lost all feeling in my fingers and toes. I had been up since 4:30 AM, the wind was blowing in my face, I had to use the bathroom, and I found myself asking the question that all deer hunters have asked themselves at one point or another: why am I doing this?
It’s a fair question, for at its worst, deer hunting involves being cold, tired, and uncomfortable. You spend hours sitting alone in the woods on the chance that a deer might—might—walk beneath your stand. To get home, you need to force your way to the bottom of a hill, in the middle of a bog, behind a cluster of brambles, over roots and around trees. To be frank, it’s a hell of a lot of work, and for what?
But the answer is simple, for at its best, deer hunting is about enjoying the peace and solitude of the woods. Our lives are busy as it is, and when all is said and done, a November morning in northern Minnesota is absolutely beautiful. It’s about watching the sun rise, about feeling its warmth tickle your face as the wilderness comes alive around you. It’s about watching the fox scurry on the forest floor beneath your tree, or seeing the chickadee land on the barrel of your rifle and tilt its head toward you in curiosity. It’s about the crisp smell of the morning air, the warm cup of coffee in your hands, and the crunch of snow beneath your boots. It’s about wrapping a venison backstrap in bacon, stuffing it with cream cheese, and grilling it to perfection.
The point is, even though deer hunting is hard, it is worth it. And the same is true for writing. Being a writer means that, given the choice between seeing a movie with friends and sitting alone in front of the keyboard, you choose the keyboard. Being a writer means showing a story to somebody else, and cringing when they tell you it needs a lot of work. But it also means having stories live inside you, stories that give you hope and stories that you want to matter, and feeling that sense of euphoria when you put a scene on paper and know that it is right.
Every writer has a type of scene they love doing. For me, it is battle scenes. I love building the tension, of creating a pace that drives the reader forward from one moment to the next, putting them right in the heart of the action with the characters, rooting for the good guys to prevail over the bad guys. My favored approach involves a variety of “cuts”; writing a short sequence from one character’s perspective, ending with a hook or tension point, and then moving to a different sequence from a different character’s perspective, all of which creates a very rapid shift from one perspective to the next, thus allowing the reader to both experience the action from a focused, character-driven perspective, while also allowing them a panoramic view of the entire conflict and understanding the stakes for all involved.
Every writer also has areas they struggle with, or find painful. For me, it’s first drafts. I see the blinking cursor on an empty page as the word processor’s way of flipping me off. I almost always have an end game in mind, but no idea how to get there. Editing can be just as frustrating, and proofreading? Ha. The Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution supposedly provides protections against cruel and unusual punishment, but apparently not when self-inflicted.
All hobbies – hunting, writing, painting, sports, fishing, golf, triathlons – are hard work. They are difficult. They require hours of dedication before delivering any kind of payoff. But that is also what makes them so rewarding, because anything worthwhile also requires a bit of sacrifice.
At its worst, writing means being alone, doubting yourself, and scrapping scene after scene. At its best, it means holding that finished work in your hands and seeing that cover pop out at you. It means giving the story to someone else, and watching their eyes light up as they read. It means cheering for your characters, feeling joy at their victories and sorrow at their losses. It means typing The End and saying to yourself, “I want to do that again.” As for me? I’ll take that trade-off any day.