How to Write

As you may know, I’m working on my second book right now. It’s called Learning to Fly, and it will be published by Touchstone/Simon and Schuster. My first book, High Infatuation, was kind of an experiment, in fact, I would call it a confidence builder. Obviously I had no idea how a person writes a book. Several years ago, I walked up to the folks at Mountaineers Press with a pile of photocopies of stories and articles I’d had published over the years (about climbing), and asked them if I could just stick them all together and have it be a book. My idea was that I’d already written lots of stuff, and if it could be a book just like that, then I would learn about the whole process of actually making a book. And then if I ever wanted to write a whole book, entirely from scratch, I’d at least know a little bit about how it all worked already.

The Mountaineers were very kind and generous to me, and gently led me to understand that I would need to write a little bit more about some things, and I would need to have some kind of transitions between the stories, but they were willing to go ahead and help me do it. In the end, I wrote a few new stories (the last ones of the book, mostly), and wrote some semi-connective things, and I got to experience the process of making a book. It was a great learning process and confidence builder, just as I had hoped. And it also led to having this website and blog, which has been the best thing ever.

Unfortunately when I started to think about REALLY writing a book….i.e., writing the whole thing in one cohesive narrative from start to finish, I realized I had no idea how people do that. I also had no idea how people get a book contract from a larger publisher in order to connect with a larger audience, which was another goal I had for Book #2. As far as I could discover, the idea is to get a book contract first and figure out how to actually write the book second. Getting a book contract requires writing a book proposal: another thing I had no idea how to do.

Fortunately for me, I had ACL surgery two winters ago which gave me a little more time to devote to non-climbing or base jumping related projects. In the end, I was extremely fortunate in my friend Greg Crouch. Greg is a successful writer and accomplished Patagonia climber (which is how we met years ago). Finally I had the bright idea of asking Greg what to do. I had been struggling along trying to write a book proposal and the first chapter of my alleged book, and I sent it all to Greg and said, “help?”

Greg thought the idea of my book was good, and he generously coached me through the proposal process. In the end I had a 60 page document with all sorts of things about this book-to-be, from a table of contents, to a synopsis, to chapter summaries, to a sample chapter. Greg then passed it on to a book agent he knows, and voila! I had a book proposal and a book agent, which in my opinion was nothing short of a miracle. Clearly it is all thanks to Greg.

Still, the next step was to work with my agent, Farley, to make the book proposal more marketable to editors at publishing companies. Luckily this is what Farley does for a living, so he knows how, and now that he was my book agent, he was willing to help me. He painstakingly edited and back-and-forthed with me on this eternal proposal (which I was quite frankly sick of, at this point) to make it better, i.e., more likely to magically turn into a book contract. When we finally got THAT done, he sent it off to all his editor contacts, and we sat on our hands and waited antsily to see what would happen. And we were all thrilled when Touchstone presented me with a contract. Learning to Fly would actually be a book! Clearly it is all thanks to Greg AND Farley. Unless it does not turn out well, in which case it is definitely all my fault.

It’s a funny thing though. You go from working on a proposal endlessly forever, carving out time to do all this work that will most likely result in nothing, wondering if you will ever actually write the book–then suddenly you are under contract to write this book and it is due by a certain date. And if it’s not done, you are in trouble. Many people warned me that getting a contract is when things get really hard, because now the pressure is on! Personally, I like things to be clear and settled, when possible. So I actually am much happier doing all this writing, knowing it has a real home at last. But I will admit, there is some pressure. I guess it would be one thing if I could lock myself in a fishing cabin in Nova Scotia and write until the book is done…but I can’t do that! I have climbs to climb and cliffs to jump off of and countries to visit and small animals to take care of and a house to clean and a car to fix and bills to pay and friends to do things with and sponsorship duties to fulfill and visitors to host and climbing festivals to speak at and parents to call and blogs to write and weeds to weed and laundry to do. And then there’s everything else. So last February when I looked at the thick contract I had just signed, promising to deliver a completed manuscript, 15 chapters of my memoir “Learning to Fly,” I felt slightly panicked. Writing isn’t the problem. Figuring out how to write when all this other stuff is constantly needing to be done too is a major crux.

What I discovered is that I write the way I’ve always written since I left college. In vehicles, preferably the back of my truck at the campground of a climbing area. When I’m at home, it is literally impossible for me to work on my book. Sitting in the passenger seat while Mario (thankfully a pilot who inexplicably loves driving long distances) drives seems to work well too.

A little bit like parents who stick the baby in the car seat and drive around the neighborhood to get it to sleep, as soon as the highway starts stretching along forever and the puppy has quit stomping all over my lap, I’m suddenly busily writing away like I’m supposed to be. What a relief.

But the very best place of all for me to write is in Rifle. I wake up early and have an hour or two between running my pup and eating breakfast and the normal 10:00 start time at the warmup walls. At night, after cooking dinner, I get drawn into writing until I realize it’s ridiculously late (10 pm), and fall asleep. What can I say? I’ve lived and moved in vehicles for so long, maybe it’s just the only way at this point. And it’s certainly a place where things get simple. There’s really nothing else to do, and maybe that’s why it works.

I’m in the home stretch of all this drafting (which is really the hardest part). Today in the car from Twin Falls, Idaho to Moab (7 hours, perfect writing stint), I got Chapter 12 done. I’m breathing a small sigh of relief, because I’m on my self-assigned schedule (which is maybe the biggest crux of this book writing business). I have October to finish Chapters 13 and 14, November to write the final chapter, and then in between all the holidays and related craziness, I can edit and try to make the whole thing good enough to send in by February 1.

I am constantly anxious that I’m not writing, fretting that I’m not writing, and desperately trying to slip away to Rifle so I can get writing done (or making Mario drive somewhere far away and not letting him talk to me the whole time), but I have a feeling I’m going to miss the constantly looming project when this book is finished. Make no mistake, it’s as much of an adventure writing about adventures between adventures, as it is having them to begin with. You know what I mean.

  • How one writes is definitely very personal. Your process is definitely different than any I’ve seen.

    May I suggest a topic for your 3rd book? I’d totally read about your experiences in simple living and how you’ve made personal freedom such a centerpiece in your life.

  • I just cracked open my brand new copy of High Infatuation this weekend while in the mountains visiting my parents. It’s a blast reading your work and I can’t wait for Learning to Fly. God speed and good luck! I’m wishing you many more productive long car rides through the West.

    As for small animals to take care of, I have a (not-so-small) fluffy, fat cat that insists there is no better way to write than to have a cat ensconced awkwardly between the writer and the keyboard. Your mileage may vary.

  • Anonymous

    thank you, that is a great idea ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Anonymous

    thanks Duffy! cats and keyboards seem to be made for each other ๐Ÿ™‚ ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Eva

    ย  Great idea! I would love to read that too Steph!

  • We are so somewhat similiar Steph. I write best in the early mornings while everyone is still sleeping, and ONLY while outdoors and in the car. I’m probably not going to make it a career with books, but for now, I’m working on serious blogging. I love reading your blogs and adventures and found it a shame we missed meeting in cortina ๐Ÿ˜‰ Looking very forward to your next book, good speed and wishing you many inspirations the next few months.

  • Gregory Crouch

    I’m happy to take none of the thanks and all of the blame. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And if you really get in deadline trouble, Mario can just drive you in endless circles around the west until you get done.

  • Anonymous

    ๐Ÿ™‚ when I got stuck on chaper 5, we made an emergency trip to Eloy (12 hours). Mario was hoping there would be a huge emergency so he could drive to Alaska. But things are looking good.

  • That’s so awesome that you’re working on your second book. I love your way of writing. ย I could get in the zone looking at that view of the open road! ย Look forward to checking out that first book and the ย next!ย 

  • Matt

    Dear Steph,

    When I graduated from Chiropractic college in the UK I headed straight to Yosemite for some much needed outdoor time, which was wonderful.

    Whilst I was there I stumbled across High Infatuation and it has since become my favourite read come rain or shine!

    I hope you keep writing, as your way of life is a beautiful and really inspiring.

    Thanks again!

  • Can Sar

    If High Infatuation was a confidence builder I don’t even know what you’ll create now that you’re confident. It’s one of my absolute favorite books and I read up to 50 books a year… Looking forward to seeing #2.

  • Anonymous

    Your first book was fantastic! I am very much looking forward to your second and I look forward to your updates!

    Thanks Steph!!

  • Becky

    Can’t wait to read the new book! Puppy Pics pleez?!~

  • eddy

    I love how you write! Can’t wait to read the second book! Do you continue to answer the e-mails?? I’d like to share some thoughts with you! thanks
    Keep it up Steph! bye

  • Anonymous

    of course, just send me an email: ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Anonymous

    ๐Ÿ™‚ i will have to write a post about her

  • Anonymous

    ๐Ÿ™‚ thanks adam!

  • Anonymous

    thank you!

  • Anonymous

    thank you matt!

  • Anonymous

    thanks Christine ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Anonymous

    thank you Chris ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Erhjunk

    I’m looking forward to book #2! ย You are an amazing person so I’m sure your next book will naturally be amazing as well.ย 

  • Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Annalubacz

    I wish you luck, Steph, with you book.

  • monkeyboyrob

    haha! ย you’re a rambling loon! ย i read this, and it feels like i am sitting in camp 4 with you eighteen years ago, as the tour bus goes by and you wave my hand with the stick duct taped to my arm. ย i am so stoked for you that you chose the right path back then, and bagged east coast academia for your true calling.

    i will always fondly think of you as my “sis”.by the way, for someone who used to gripe about the cold as much as i did, you’ve certainly put a lot of alpine miles on your odometer!i hope we cross paths sometime in the not to distant future- until then and forever, i wish the best for you and yours- and i know that you are among the few who have learned how to wring the best out of the day!i can’t wait to read (what i can only imagine must be) your insane recountings and reflections of times well spent.thanks for being you,robย 

  • Monkeyboyrob

    huh- this machine does not respect spacing and punctuation…

  • monkeyboyrob

    huh- my cat likes to “contribute” (each key is roughly the size of one of her paws- i guess it just seems intuitive to her).

  • eddy

    I send it twice but I didn’t get any reply ๐Ÿ™ I’m sure I wrote the correct adress

  • try again, that is strange!

  • Anonymous

    It’s really interesting to hear you write well whilst on the move. I heard of an author who worked best on flights and so took return journeys across the States just to be in the air.ย I realised I am super productive when working on trains.ย ย I wrote a little about why I thought it worked so well –ย

  • Caroline

    You go! I am waiting for the book =)

  • not tooo much longer now ๐Ÿ™‚


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