Jon Krakauer: Writing is like Rock Climbing
Travel Blog • Eva Holland • 04.26.12 | 9:51 AM ET
This week I’ve been making my way through a collection of interviews called The New New Journalism: Conversations with America’s Best Nonfiction Writers on Their Craft. It’s an interesting read. The writers—everyone from Gay Talese to Eric Schlosser and Susan Orlean—describe how they work, from story idea through interviewing to writing and editing.
In one section, Jon Krakauer explains his use of outlines. It involves a lot of hand-written scenes pinned to his office wall in sequence. The book’s author, Robert S. Boynton, asks him where he got the technique.
Here’s Krakauer’s reply:
Rock climbing. When you embark on a really big climb like, say, the Salathé wall of El Capitan, which rises three thousand vertical feet from the floor of Yosemite Valley, the enormity of the undertaking can be paralyzing. So a climber breaks down the ascent into rope-lengths, or pitches. If you can think of the climb as a series of twenty or thirty pitches, and focus on each of these pitches to the exclusion of all the scary pitches that still lie above, climbing El Cap suddenly isn’t such an intimidating prospect. By following an outline I can focus on the chapter that’s in front of me… It makes writing a book much less terrifying.