Writerly Wednesday: The Hike



We stared up at the steep, chain-linked climb that began the six-hour trek to the top, at Kjerag, Norway.

Were we really doing this? 

A sick feeling settled in my stomach. I’d read about people getting stuck or lost on the trails at the plateau, which are sparsely marked with stones, and the chains, which aren’t always still attached to the rock faces we’d be climbing up. Or… the ever-present edge of the trail, which was a long way down to the fjord. What if we got lost and couldn’t find our way back before dark? 

“We don’t have to do the hike,” said Matt.


I shook my head. For some reason, I had to get to that boulder. The hike was long and beautiful in places. After a while, we got used to hefting ourselves up steep inclines by the chains. We rested in green valleys with sheep grazing in them and swore our way up the last crazy-steep set of rock faces until we reached the plateau, which was cold, silent, stunning.

I lined up to stand on the boulder. I got out of line. I lined up three times before I forced myself to step out on the narrow rock ledge, 3,228 feet above Lysefjorden anyway. The chain that used to help hikers leverage themselves out on the rock was broken, so I had to feel my way along the smooth ledge. Standing on the boulder with the wind whipping around me was intensely powerful, but not as much as what happened next.


Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As I turned to leave, I wobbled. My legs were unaccustomed to so much physical exertion. I looked down. And then I panicked.

I was stuck on the boulder. 

I had envisioned myself doing yoga poses like all of the people on Pinterest and Instagram, waving flippantly at the camera as if standing so high and vulnerable was no big deal. Instead, I felt the hot shame of tears streaming down my cheeks.

“Hey! It’s okay–grab my hand!” shouted a voice.

I looked and saw that the other hikers had formed a sort-of make-shift chain with their arms. With the help of a group of strangers that I will probably never see again, I was back on solid ground. We hugged.

It’s not About the Climb

At first, I felt embarrassed, but on the way down I saw hikers helping each other all along the way. Somehow, in my frenzy to make it to the top, I had missed this camaraderie of fellow travellers.

Writing takes you places within yourself. If a good writing process means making yourself vulnerable to get to those authentic places, it is equal parts about reaching out and asking for help when you get stuck.


Have you ever been stuck somewhere terrifying before?






10 Reasons Why you Should Write Thank You Notes to Authors you Love

Writerly Wednesday

Recently,  I got it into my head that it would be fun to write a thank you note to a writer that I have loved. It felt like her words had changed my life in a cool way and I wanted to let her know it. Normally, I would be too shy to do anything like that. Maybe it was the full moon. Maybe, it’s because I’m trying to challenge myself to not hide in writerly solitude in my Nerd Cave all day. I don’t know.

So I wrote this letter and sent it out into the universe and that was that.

A short while later, I found a curious email with–gasp!–my beloved author’s name attached. She had actually written me back! It felt nice to know that I had reached this person in some way, even just to say thank you. I mean, hey, saying “thank you” is nice.

On a more selfish note, there are other cool perks to writing your literary heroes:

  1. Who doesn’t need a happy little pick-me-up? Even literary super-heroes can use some good writerly karma.
  2. Taking the time to sit down and think about why you liked someone else’s work that you admire gives you a chance to discover new ways that you can strengthen your own writing.
  3. Writing thank you notes is weirdly meditative, and having a meditative state of mind is great for writing real, honest work. (Aka the good stuff).
  4. Maybe said Literary Hero has some Super Awesome Advice for you? You never know until you ask.
  5. Doing nice things makes you feel better. Again, karma, man.
  6. Reaching out fights Resistance (aka the Darth Vader of writing progress). What do you do when the rejections start piling up? Reach out to other writers and suddenly you don’t feel so alone.
  7. Even though writing is a solitary task, it’s also about starting conversations. So why not join the conversation that your literary hero started? Let them know what you thought and join in.
  8. Talking about writing–in any way–even to compliment another writers’ awesome work puts you in a good frame of mind for creating your own awesome work.
  9. Reaching out to other writers makes you feel more connected. And hey, don’t stop there. Why not reach out to as many writers as you can? Find a writerly group online or in your hometown and you might just find a new writerly BFF.
  10. And hey, maybe, you and your Literary Super-Hero will become BFFs? I mean, you never know…


Have you ever written to your Literary Super Hero? Met them in person? What was it like?


Writerly Wednesday


Writerly Wednesday


When I first started this blog, I wrote a lot about writing. I was in the throes of editing the first novel I’d ever written and it felt important to document it. Since then, I’ve written five more novels, among other things.

For a long time, I felt like I needed to write alone, in secret after that first novel. I didn’t want to talk about my writing. I wanted to write for myself. But over the years, I’ve discovered that while writing for myself has helped me in many ways, some of the best and most surprising learning experiences have been from talking to other writers.

So I’m starting Writerly Wednesday as a (somewhat) regular feature here at Murmurs in the Margins in the hopes that other writers might find me in my little corner of the internet. Come for a chat, check out prompts and updated submissions lists.

Corporate Trickery, Or How to Use Psychology to Hone Your Writing Practice

When your writing project makes you feel this small…trick your mind!
Location, South Island, NZ

These days, you can’t go five steps—or five clicks on the Internet—without reading about some psychological term to describe the state of humanity.  Keeping up with the Joneses on Facebook? You’re probably feeling the effects of objective self-awareness, or what I like to call the “every-one-I’ve ever met is the next J.K. Rowling and I’m not” phenomena, whereby one feels like a steaming pile of cow dung post-Facebook crawl.  (Or, more aptly titled, the stalk of shame).  Ever found yourself desperately trying to fit in? That’s called normopathy.  (Don’t worry, it’s totally normal).  Aporia, compersion, dysphoria…there are more terms to describe the human state than you might think.   Who cares? You exclaim.  I’m an artiste, not a Freud wannabe!

True, true.

Except here’s the thing.  Knowing a little bit about how the mind works can be pretty useful for a writer these days.  Sure, there’s the whole getting inside your character’s psyche aspect (more on that later), but that’s not all.  I’m thinking more specifically about the writing practice.  Perhaps it’s because when I sat down at my desk this morning all I really wanted to do was go back to bed and scan Facebook for hours like a digital nomad.  Maybe it’s because sometimes sitting down at the desk to write is pretty dang hard.  So instead of jumping right to the writing, I began to do a little research (aka the world’s best way to avoid writing).

What I found was fitting:

It’s called the Goal-Gradient Effect and what it does is create an illusion of progress.  Essentially, we work harder to reach a goal when we think that it is closer than it actually is.  If you’ve ever found yourself at your favourite restaurant or coffee place, punch card in hand, on a fairly regular basis because you’re SO CLOSE to getting that free cup, that’s the goal-gradient effect. It’s the difference between handing out empty punch cards with ten spaces versus a punch card with twelve stamps and two holes already punched out when you receive the card.

This got me thinking. Sure, this is kind of a sneaky trick for those corporate bastards to play on us.  But what if it could be used for good and not marginally evil corporate stuff?  What if we could harness the idea of the goal-gradient effect for the good of writing productivity everywhere?  If it’s true that the shorter the perceived distance to the goal, the more motivated people are to reach that goal, then why not apply it to goals while writing?

Instead of sitting down at the desk and glowering at the stack of unedited chapters, think: “Just one chapter.  Just two pages.” Then give yourself a reward—just like those sneaky corporate bastards!—(except yours will be more unique and just for you).  For example, when I really don’t want to write, I put a plate of cookies just out of reach on my desk.  Every time I look up, I think: “Just one more page and I can have a cookie.”  If you don’t like cookies, (a) WHY??? And (b) use something that is more to your taste, like…broccoli…or something equally boring.

Next time you sit down at your desk to write, remember your friend the goal-gradient effect and use a little corporate trickery to get yourself motivated.

Have you ever had to trick yourself into writing?  What sorts of ways do you keep yourself motivated?


Ran Kivetz, Oleg Urminsky & Yuhuang Zheng, The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis Resurrected: Purchase Acceleration, Illusionary Goal Progress, & Customer Retention.  Journal of Marketing Research.  39. Vol XLIII (Feb 2006), 39-58.