Me, working on a tricky bouldering problem

As a kid my family and I would go out into the countryside – usually the Peak District – on nice weekends to hike and rock climb. I was a pretty fearless kid and I loved climbing. I was pretty good at it to – I had a flexibility I’m envious of now.

I lost interest in rock climbing as a teenager, but I’m finally getting back into it. Now my husband has the bug too and we’ve started going indoor bouldering (there aren’t any rocks in the Netherlands) twice a week.

For those who haven’t done much climbing, bouldering involves doing short “problems” or routes without a rope. You only go a few metres off the ground and there are soft mats at the bottom. The routes are called problems because the emphasis is on figuring out how to get to the top hold and, depending on the level, it is not always easy!

When we first started going we were doing the easiest level of problems. The holds of the problems are colour coordinated and numbered, so at one of the two boulder gyms we go to the easiest routes are orange and they range between easy 3s and harder 4+s. We breezed up some of the problems, but others either required tricky moves we didn’t know how to do or didn’t feel comfortable doing or they required more strength than we had at that point.

After the first few visits to the bouldering gym my arms would hurt for days, but after a month and a half of going regularly the recovery time is starting to speed up. And last night I finally “graduated” to the next level. I’d been doing a few greens, which are 4s and 5s, for a few weeks, but I finally managed the last orange problem that had been besting me. It wasn’t a particularly tricky climb and I knew what I needed to do, but getting to the last hold required lifting myself up on my left leg without any hand holds – I had to trust my foot on a hold that frankly looked¬† worn and slippery to me. Eventually, with my husband on the ground shouting up encouragement, I managed to trust my foot enough to get to the top hold. During that same session I also managed a few tricky green problems, so I really felt like I’d earned the post-climbing beer!

But what does any of this have to do with writing?

Over the summer we’ve had a lot of busy weekends and my day off (my writing day) has been eaten in to,¬† so I haven’t been able to make much progress with my Small Rain project. But the annoying thing about this writing project is that it insists upon itself. It wants to be written. When I’m not paying it enough attention it niggles at my mind. It got to the point where I finally resolved to make time for my writing, even though I felt like I didn’t have much free time.

I calculated that if I spent half an hour in the morning writing, 40 minutes on the train to work, 30 minutes during my lunch break, 40 minutes on the train home and 30 minutes in the evening, I could squeeze in 11 hours of writing during the work week. That seemed like a lot of time, so I decided to give it a try! After a few weeks I’ve settled into mostly just writing on the train and using those other writing slots here and there when I can. It’s not always easy to write in this way, especially when I really get into it and then have to drag myself away again. But I have been making progress. Working in this piecemeal way I’ve got two more blog posts in my Small Rain series done (I’ll hopefully be posting something soon – my schedule has gone out the window and I keep leaping back and forth in time whilst I wait for book orders to arrive!).

In bouldering, making a move without falling off is called sticking it. As I mentioned we have been going bouldering twice a week. Sometimes mastering a problem will take two or three sessions at the bouldering gym. You might just figure out a particular move and get a little bit further, or your arms might get tired and you start making anti-progress. But eventually, if you keep trying you’ll figure it out, or you’ll stick that difficult move.

I don’t think writing is all that dissimilar. It’s less physical, for sure, although making it to the top in bouldering often relies heavily on your frame of mind. Even at the end of a session, when my arms are really tired, I’ve been able to solve a problem because I willed myself to do it. With writing, just starting can take a lot of willpower and finding your way to the end is a lot like solving a bouldering problem. You might try a certain approach for a while until you realise it’s not going to work and you have to change tack.

You also have to stick (at) it. You have to try, fall off and get back on again. You have to work at it when you’re tired (because it’s 6am or the end of a long day). And even when you have a bad session and you don’t seem to be progressing, over many hours, weeks, months, years you’ll start to see progress. And looking back, you’ll realise how far you’ve come.

We’re lucky in Amsterdam to have quite a few bouldering gyms, we use the USC bouldering gym and Monk, but there’s also bouldering at De Klimmuur, Het Lab, Klimhal and Klimhal Mountain Network.

Along the same lines, this article on Why Writers Run is an interesting read. Although my former writing tutor disagrees.

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