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The Resilience of the Writer’s Spirit

October 19, 2014 by Diane

hand opening red curtain on white.

Two weeks ago, I stumbled off the writing track. Way off track. Way, way, way off track. All the way to Truckee.

My plan was to spend five days in Truckee, writing.

But first I had to pack.

I packed winter and summer clothes, because the nights are below forty and the days above seventy. I packed shampoo and conditioner and face wash and body soap and a blow dryer and floss and toothpaste, and I zipped down to Walgreen’s to buy a travel toothbrush. I packed flip flops and slippers and hiking boots and sneakers and a backpack and a beach chair and suntan lotion and gluten-free snacks. I packed a bag of books because I wanted plenty to choose from, and oh yeah…I packed my laptop.

I stuffed all my baggage into the backseat of my Corolla and sped down the expressway to pick up my ol’ pal Dave, who stuffed his version of baggage–plus an ice chest the size of a train depot–into the trunk (and whatever available space remained in the back seat), and somehow we both squeezed into the front and off we went, the car sinking, to relax in the high Sierra.

By the time we arrived, the Bickersons had arrived as well.

You know the Bickersons. They bicker about everything. The Bickersons appear whenever you’re stressed or overworked, or you’ve spent too much time in your head or in front of a computer or packing. They hijacked our bodies and controlled our vocal chords and complained about the country music station on the car radio, and the wind blowing every last hair off our heads through the open window. They complained about the ringing in our ears and the stiffness in our hips from the long ride, and they complained about having to stop at Safeway to load up for the week.

And unpack the car.

Oh, the Bickersons made their presence known.

The first thing I unpacked was my laptop. I brought it so I could work on my novel.

Dave brought hiking gear so he could conquer the highest ridgeline.

I set my laptop on the mile-long kitchen table in the two-story, three-bedroom pine and granite “cabin” where we were staying, plugged it in, and headed out to the deck. I plopped down in a wooden folding chair with my feet on the railing, looked out at the pines and yellow aspens and the dried mules ears, then closed my eyes under a brilliant blue Truckee sky and meditated while Dave sipped coffee and the Bickersons vacated.

My laptop sat unopened on the piney table.

The next day I dragged my beach chair from the trunk of the car and set it up at the edge of Donner Lake and contemplated the rugged granite mountain peaks. I thought about the survivors of the Donner party, near starvation, trudging over those peaks for thirty-three days through sixty feet of snow in spots, all the way to Johnson’s Ranch some one hundred miles away. I contemplated the resilience of the human spirit while visualizing my car crammed with the comforts of home.

My laptop sat unopened on the knotty pine table.

The morning after, Dave and I drove to North Lake Tahoe and hiked around Spooner Lake and talked to a geezer on a bike who had breezed down the Tahoe Rim Trail. We saw a lot of geezers on bikes. All of them were in better shape than…well…me. That afternoon, one of them passed Dave who was sweltering up a steep incline for an hour on a borrowed bicycle. At an overlook, Dave stopped to cool the sweat from his T-shirt, grumbling to a fellow biker how embarrassed he was that an old guy had passed him by. The other biker peered at him and said, “Didn’t I just pass you? I’m the old guy.”

The resilience of the human spirit.

What about the resilience of the writer’s spirit? Where are the granite peaks that we trudge over? Where are the steep climbs that we swelter up?

They’re there. Oh, they’re there. I just wasn’t forging them. I was relaxing in the thin dry Truckee air, my nasal passages and lips cracking in the altitude.

Those 50,000-word novellas we pound out in thirty days during National Novel Writing Month are the mountains.

Those 1500 words we aim for in one hour are the steep inclines.

That novel that we rewrite is the long uphill climb.

They’re there.

But sometimes we need to kick back in a beach chair and be a mere mortal in God’s cathedral.

Takeaways this week:

It’s okay to take a vacation from writing. The subconscious will continue working while you loaf.

When the Bickersons arrive, it’s a clear sign you need some downtime.

When the vacation is over, put that writer’s cap back on, pick a goal, set a timer, and power onward. You can do it. I can do it. We’re writers.


  1. Jan says:

    Donner is a place I know well – having been raised in Reno Nevada. There’s not a lot of air up there so it’s easy to feel light-headed and go with the flow! You’re lucky that this time of year you didn’t get snow! Enjoyed your description of the granite slopes! jan

  2. Joan Merdinger says:

    Super great story, Diane! Sounds like your vacation was a success!!!

  3. This happens to me every single time. I’ve finally learned that I just cannot write on vacation. Writing is a closed door/dark room exercise and when I’m away I want to experience every moment.

    This week or two off will spark the fire of your imagination and you’ll come back stronger than ever!

  4. Dawne Webber says:

    Nice accurate description of the writer’s journey. I’m on the LONG uphill climb at the moment. I’m just wondering when “it’s all downhill from here” happens.

  5. Paula says:

    I enjoyed your depiction of the Bickersons…. Know them well.

  6. Dave says:

    Ah….yes….Tahoe and the Bickersons….thankfully Tahoe has a moratorium on the Bickersons……. they’re only allowed a brief appearance …..and never allowed to stay!

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