Writing Advice from a Rock Climber, Monk and Bonehead–Really?

The nineteenth post in The Education of a Writer (TEW) series. 

I’m a selfish turd prone to episodes of self-loathing where all I want to do is write bad poetry.

It’s not that I hate hard work. I like hard work…especially when I’m working hard to please myself.

Unfortunately, this won’t get me anywhere fast. It won’t get any writer anywhere fast, including you. But there was a time when I didn’t want to get anywhere fast. I just wanted to be left alone.

Guess What I Want to Do When I Grow Up?

I was in my early twenties, shaved head, half-naked most of the time [I’ll explain in a second why], tan and very fond of a white pair of cheap, thick-framed sunglasses.

When I say half-naked I mean I wore shorts and shoes. Climbing shoes. The tight, narrow, pixie-like get-ups all climbers where.

See, I was a professional rock climber.

“Professional” is a bit of an exaggeration. In fact, my wife laughs every time I say it. But here’s the logic: I worked at a rock climbing gym in south St. Louis, a gym I eventually managed. I practically lived there. And get this: they paid me, making me a “professional.”

You can stop laughing now.

I was good at what I did–taking care of the shop–and I managed to hold my own as a climber. I was a bit competitive about the sport. I had dreams of making it big. But I also had dreams of living on the side of a mountain by myself.

Yeah, you guessed it, I wanted to be a monk.

Sifting Through Some Heavy Stuff

I no longer have the book or even remember the name but back then I owned a copy of a biography or memoir of some monk in some remote region who lived in small quarters on the top of a cliff.

I was smitten.

I lugged that book around like it were the Bible. That’s significant, because at the time I was going through some pretty serious questions about life, like meaning, origin and who the hell I was.

The book was dog-eared. Coffee-stained. And it was often lying around the climbing gym.  No surprise, but I was trying to draw attention to myself.

If you think about it, that’s rather funny. Monks, hermits…rock climbing gym managers…kind of lived on the edge of obscurity. On purpose. They want the solitude. They want the peace.

And here I was announcing to the people in my small world that I wanted to be a monk. I wanted to be obscure. And I wanted everyone to know.

I had issues.

Introducing Bonehead

It’s not so messy when you are alone in your issue-dealing stage. Add another person, however, and it can get messy. Like a girlfriend.

Enter bonehead. [What else would you expect? A monk in training with a girlfriend? There is bound to be trouble.]

My tendency when dating this poor girl was to promise that I would come over after work–and then not show. When I did show, I’d eat all of her food and leave abruptly after we sat on the couch talking awhile. [She talked, I sulked.]

I was totally conflicted. I mean, the monkshood was calling me. I can’t get deep in a relationship with this girl. That’ll ruin my plans to live on the side of a mountain by myself, writing bad poetry.

It’s amazing what she put up with.

One time we went camping in Wyoming and all I did during the day was stay in my tent and read The Brothers Karamazov. I refused to speak to her. Yes, you may reach through the screen and slap me.

By God’s grace she stayed with me and even stood by me when I lost my step-father in a rock climbing accident. In fact, it was after that accident that I vowed to get my act together and treat her right.

That meant that I gave up on the monk thing.

But it’s still there. That urge, that love for self that says, “Just blow it all off, man. Forget work. Write, man. Write that really horrible crap all day. Heck, for the next week. Who cares? It’s your life. Live it.”

But I can’t.

I’m a professional AND I work for myself. People are depending upon me. Clients. Friends. And most, importantly, family.

Thought I Forgot about the Advice Thing, Didn’t You?

One of the secrets the cubicle bound can’t tell you is that you can work to your natural rhythms when you work for yourself. But here’s a word of caution: you can’t be a slave to them, especially those rhythms that are unhealthy, like when I wake up in a funk three days in a row…

That’s feeling sorry for myself on an epic scale. And you got to fight that thing.

Yet, don’t just settle to provide the minimum: you need to offer majestic amounts of customer service. You need to pour yourself out. You need to write yourself silly. Edit like David Mamet.

It’s that discipline, that relentless practice, that’ll help you become a better writer. No short cuts. No days off. And no reading The Brothers Karamazov in a tent when your future wife really needs to talk…otherwise I’m going to reach through the screen and smack your face.

Next article in the series: “A Quick and Dirty Guide to Killing Your Life-Long Dream

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  1. says

    Ha, ha. Oh, man, that resonates.

    Meaning and purpose can so much be about freedom *and* responsibility.

    The freedom to create and express the true self – in a way that is structured for productivity and to the benefit of others.

    Maybe that’s the meaning of life?

    • says

      I’ll go half way with you on that. The other half being this: living for others. May not be the meaning of life, but I’ve found it superior in the satisfaction department to it’s alternative [living for yourself]. I’m curious, when you say resonates, what particularly? Was it the pixie-like climbing shoes? Or reading Karamozov in a tent? 😉

      • says

        Living for others, thanks Demain! I ought to have put a smiley at the end of ‘meaning of life’ :)

        Oddly by making my own goal (for) others I often find more…. peace?

        This resonated:

        “And here I was announcing to the people in my small world that I wanted to be a monk. I wanted to be obscure. And I wanted everyone to know.” –

        I’m fascinated by such contradictions in life.

        I had issues.


  2. says

    Alas, it is the balance of writing for yourself while making others happy, most notably your clients. You can’t have it all, and besides, we wouldn’t want it all, because then there would nothing left to want and we wouldn’t write anymore.


    Thanks, Demian!

  3. says

    At some point in my life, I’ve aspired to be everything you have already been…I’ve only really managed bonehead and copywriter so far.

    Smooth writing with not so many jumping-bean descriptions this time Demian – just pure honesty…and it works. Every one of your posts is an education.

    Sorry to hear about your step-father. Heavy stuff man.