Everything I Learned About Writing I Learned From Mountain Biking

By Aaron Ritchey

I know what you are thinking.

When I first started blogging for RMFW I wrote that I learned all about writing from Johnny Cash. Well, that is true, but a blog entitled “I learned a little about writing from mountain biking because I didn’t learn everything from Johnny Cash” is kinda clunky.

The mountain bike rides I do can be divided into two equal parts—the sweaty, grinding, heart-puking climb up and the fast, glorious, soar of the ride down. Not a lot of flat, and I think in the writing life, there isn’t a lot of flat. It’s a struggle, but it’s the struggle that strengthens us.

As my friend Jason Evans says, all suffering is redemptive. So, that’s number one on the list, and you just know I was gonna do a list.

  • WRITING IS THE CLIMB – The climb is hard. The climb requires perseverance, and with mountain biking, constant pedaling. I’m a write-everyday-type of guy because if I stop, it’s too easy to stay stopped. If you don’t pedal while you are climbing, you will abruptly stop moving and fall.
  • FALLING IS PART OF THE GAME — When I was learning how to mountain bike, I would come home bruised and bloodied. Writing books and publishing books is just as bloody a business. There will be cuts, bruises, and injuries, sometimes to your very soul. It makes the successes all the more dramatic and heroic.
  • GOTTA UNCLICK — I would show my mountain bike guru my wounds, and he would say, “Gotta unclick, man. Gotta unclick.” You see, my shoes click into my pedals so I am one with my bike. If I ran into trouble bouncing up (or down) the rocks, or if I lost my balance, I had to quickly unclick a shoes from its housing, or I would land on my leg, thigh, side, arm, uvula. If I clicked out of my pedals before I fell, I’d set my foot down and avoid physical damage. In the writing game, when I fall, I have to learn to unclick. I have to learn to let go of bad reviews, a finicky editor, or terrible sales. I have to unclick, get my balance, and keep on biking up the hill.
  • GOTTA GET A GURU — Lindon Weibe was my mountain bike guru, and he taught me everything I needed to know. In writing, I’ve had many gurus—Linda Rohrbaugh, Andrea Brown, Laura Rennert, Jeanne C. Stein, Mario Acevedo, and many, many, many others. Find people to talk to. Listen to their advice and observe their lives.
  • LEARN TO LOVE THE CLIMB — So I bike Deer Creek Canyon, the east entrance of Mount Falcon, a little bit of Red Rocks, and the Apex trail near Heritage Square. All of these are a sharp elevation gain to the top, and then a swooping thrill ride down. I love downhill. It’s easy, exciting, no sweat. But to get to the downhill, I have to climb, so I taught myself to love the climb. It’s the joy of the struggle, it’s the self-discipline of figuring out a time to write, and then using that time to write. Even though the new season of Orange is the New Black is on. The good stuff is in the grit, baby.
  • DOWNHILL IS AN ILLUSION — When I’m climbing the east entrance of Mount Falcon, which I have dubbed MFE, Mount Falcon East, baby!, I am thinking, “Oh, the downhill is going to be so sweet.” And when I get to the top and turn around, yes, the downhill is fun, but it’s not as good as I thought it would be. I have a mantra, “There is no downhill. There is only the hill.” I think what happens to a lot of successful writers is that they get the fame and success and suddenly the writing game is like biking downhill. It all just comes, and it’s all so sweet. Humans were made to struggle and challenge their limits.
  • STOP AND LOOK AROUND— So we're climbing up the hill, sweating, or we're soaring down the hill, enjoying our successes. Either way, stop, look around, breathe. The writer’s life is a good life. Not an easy life, but a good life.

The biggest difference between writing and mountain biking is that writing doesn’t burn very many calories. Actually, writing is terrible for your physical health—carpal tunnel, back pain, weight gain from stress eating. Yeah, not good for you.

So remember, write a little, but put a little time in on your bike, mountain or otherwise. Gotta stay fit to write them books, partner.

Enjoy the climb. There is only the hill.

Orange is the New Black is Back So I Spent My Blog Writing Time Watching it…

By J.A. (Julie) Kazimer

My original post was going to be something very profound and enlightening, something that would make your writing career, and eventually put you at the NY Times Bestseller List, and then I started watching the 2nd season of Orange is the New Black...

If you haven’t seen Orange is the New Black, you really should, for your writerly sake. It is just plain, good storytelling. It can teach you a lot about characterization too. The story starts off about a young woman of privilege who ends up in prison for a crime she committed many years ago. But it grows into so much more as we see the world through the eyes of various inmates, in humorous, sometimes sad, gritty and grim, but very honest ways.

I LOVE this show for many reasons, the writing, the plot twists, but most of all for the characters, for each is deeper, and their stories sometimes horrible, but also entertaining. At the end of every episode, I feel for them. I carry them in my thoughts after the show is over. I embrace and connect with them.

All things we as writers want our audience to feel.

Then there’s the main character, Piper.

I hate her. Seriously can’t stand her.

But I continue to watch.

She is an anti-hero in the finest way.

I don’t like her, for she isn’t very likeable. She started off likeable, and I even felt sorry for her. Now I feel like stuffing her in a wood chipper.

Her choices are poor ones, resulting in causing others much pain.

And yet, I watch every episode, hoping things will be different. Hoping she’ll be redeemed in some way. Hoping for a happy ending, not for her, but for the sake of those around her.

Yes, I hate her.

But, like it or not, I connect with her.

Now I’m not suggesting you go and write crappy characters who I will hate. Nicolas Sparks fills that void for me just fine (Kidding, no Sparks’ related hate mail, please).

I’m merely pointing out, that every character is flawed in some way. Find those flaws, exploit them for your audience, show us who the character is beyond a description in the mirror (please, please don’t describe your character by having them look in the mirror; it’s been done a million times, by yours truly half of those times). Give your hero warts (not literal ones unless your heroine like to apply wart remover), and make us want to heal them.

This is perhaps most true when writing the antagonist. Too often we only show the antagonist’s flaws, his evilness. But to make a living, breathing bad guy, show us beyond his evil façade. Show us why he is the way he is, show us his humanity, and we will continue to read on.

Any of you watching season 2 of Orange is the New Black? What do you think? Care to defend Piper? Or anyone have another example of a great anti-hero, besides Hannibal Lector?