Jon Krakauer: Writing is like Rock Climbing

Travel Blog  •  Eva Holland  •  04.26.12 | 9:51 AM ET

El Capitan, YosemiteEl Capitan, Yosemite. Photo by daveynin via Flickr, (Creative Commons)

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.

Eva Holland is co-editor of World Hum. She is a former associate editor at Up Here and Up Here Business magazines, and a contributor to Vela. She's based in Canada's Yukon territory.

5 Comments for Jon Krakauer: Writing is like Rock Climbing

Spencer 04.26.12 | 9:36 PM ET

For me writing is like a rolling rock down a hill. Once you give it a little push the momentum takes it further and further.

Solo Female Nomad 04.28.12 | 4:01 PM ET

Love the comparison! I will have to apply that to my writings.

Bill Walker 05.06.12 | 11:50 AM ET

Heckuva’ interesting comparison. Like in golf, focus on the next shot, not the entire course. It becomes more workmanlike. Perhaps you could even call travel writing a Calvinist pursuit.

tourist places in India 05.08.12 | 1:38 AM ET

this article is so really wonderful one to read and get a new information about this kind of blogs….

Chris Chinniah 05.23.12 | 11:28 PM ET

Many writers have their own ways of writing and crafting their tales. Some do it like how the article described, like rock climbing. Others use comic book panels with drawings to help them flesh out ideas, and some just write with no problem. Having a good storyboard will give you insurance in case you get a writer’s block, and find yourself losing creativity. Going back to the board will give you more inspiration about how the story should continue.

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