Repost: “Moving Toward the Mountain”



This is a repost of a piece I wrote quite a while ago. I just watched Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” speech again (for the I-don’t-know-how-many)th time. And this taps into some of my thoughts lately on writing and priorities. So I just wanted to share for those of you new to the blog.

WhitneyBaumgardtI’ve been thinking about goals lately and about what I want out of my writing career. I’ll tell you that, personally, I know quite a few writers. I count many as friends. Some of them you’ve never heard of, and some of them I’m fairly positive you have. Most of these people are working at different levels in their career. Writing their first book. Writing their twentieth. Looking for an agent. Looking for a film deal. Looking for the internal fortitude to take the next step, whatever that may be.

Wherever we are, we’re all working and creating and taking the same journey, though in completely different ways. We’re all working toward our personal goals.

I’ve talked here before about Neil Gaiman’s exceptional commencement address to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Honestly, if you are a creative person of any kind, you need to watch or read it here. In that speech, Gaiman talked about how he saw his goals as a writer.

“Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal.”

I don’t think that you need to write down a detailed list of what you want to accomplish as a writer or an artist. You certainly may if that is what motivates you, but if you’re like me, you may not have specific goals, only general ones:

  • I want to tell stories.
  • I want to write better every day.
  • I want to be able to pay my rent and buy groceries.
  • I don’t want to be bored.

Being a writer is my mountain. My goal. And as I continue on in this very busy, very noisy world, I have to ask myself, “How I am going to get there?”

“And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.”

Is the next step you’re considering going to take you closer to your personal mountain? Or further? It’s very easy to be distracted. There are personal and family obligations that are not optional. But there are many, many social or professional obligations that are. How much time to you spend reading blogs? How much time do you spend on social networks? How much time do you spend studying about writing when you could be actually writing?

“I said no to editorial jobs on magazines, proper jobs that would have paid proper money because I knew that, attractive though they were, for me they would have been walking away from the mountain. And if those job offers had come along earlier I might have taken them, because they still would have been closer to the mountain than I was at the time.”

See, for a long time, I spent many hours a day trolling through the internet, reading excellent blogs or journals, finding those writers who had been on this publishing journey before me. I was learning. I was gleaning the information from this source and that experience. I had a list of sites that I checked, some of them daily, so that I could keep up with current publishing news. At that point in my journey, those things moved me toward my mountain.

Then, I published my first book. And most of those sites told me that I needed to maintain this blog presence or build that audience or promote in that community. And I did some of that. And those efforts (with varying success) moved me closer to the mountain.

So, I published my second book. (And it was no less nerve-wracking than the first.) And then I published my third and my fourth and my fifth. And through those months, I learned that, when things got too distracting, too overwhelming, or simply too complicated, I turned back to advice I heard from this man when I first started my journey: Focus on writing the next thing.

Because writing more will always lead me closer to the mountain. Though I took a degree in English, I never studied creative writing formally. Like Gaiman, “I learned to write by writing.” So how do I get better? I write more. And I keep writing.

Soon, I found that I wasn’t reading as many blogs or websites or journals because… they were no longer moving me toward my mountain. In my own body of work, I struggle with the idea of going back and re-editing my first book, A Hidden Fire. There are things about it that I know could be improved and, as an independent author, I could update the file easily. It’s tempting for my own ego, but I’m not sure whether it moves me toward the mountain or is just a distraction. (I’m still debating this, by the way, so feel free to weigh in with your comments.)

In conclusion, ask yourself today: Are the steps I’m taking in my journey moving me closer to that mountain? Or are they a side trip? A distraction? And don’t be afraid to say yes, but I’m going to do it anyway. Some people prefer a more meandering path, and that’s your prerogative. If you’re smart and observant, you’ll learn things either way.

But don’t stray for too long. Keep moving toward your personal mountain. Keep working. Keep learning. Mostly, keep writing or creating. Gaiman said it better than me:

“And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”


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  1. On the subject of A Hidden Fire, I’m no writer at all and wouldn’t know where to start to properly critique someone’s work, I can only give an impression of the impact of the book on me as an individual. I cannot emphasise how much this book has affected me. I read it just as you released A Fall of Water, just after I had tipped my toe in the the world of reading the paranormal, all young adult. It blew me away, literally. I have read it at least 10 times since and pieces of it many more times over. This book and it’s series have become my bench mark. To me it’s perfect along with the following 3 books. I have only found a half dozen authors since that move me anywhere near so much. It solidified my love of paranormal (haven’t read much else since)and everything else is measured by it. I know that won’t help you with your decision but I just wanted you to know what I felt about it.

  2. Elizabeth, please don’t change a thing, we love your books as they are written. Don’t bog yourself down with self-doubt, keep moving toward that mountain and thank you for bringing us along.

  3. Elizabeth,
    Every so often, someone says exactly the right thing at exactly the right time; hits a nerve that has been raw and gnawing at your inner demons. Thank you – I needed this today!

    As a musician and aspiring writer, it is very easy to get caught up in the mundane details of managing daily life; often sacrificing art and creative outlets to satisfy the other hats I wear (mother, professional, wife). While these are also choices, there are parts of me that feel like they are beginning to die from lying dormant so long. “Work toward the mountain” will be my new mantra – assuming I can balance which mountain I want to climb next! 🙂

    Regarding the revising of your previous works, I feel they have accomplished what you need them to. There is always room for improvement and we are always our own worst critics, but that doesn’t necessarily mean look back. From the standpoint of a musician, once an album is created and sold, there is little use in going back and re-recording unless you are bringing something entirely new to the table. In the case of a novel, you would be better served adding to your collection or creating vignettes/novellas that add to a previous story (such as your Tenzin back-story) rather than re-work something already in place.

    Move toward your mountain! Keep writing, keep growing, keep learning.

    Thank you for continuing your role as a teacher and inspiring both your readers and fellow writers (of all stages).

    Most Sincerely,

  4. Elizabeth, I have been with you for a long time now. Waiting for the next book to come out (ok drooling for it) following every post you put out and listen to everything you say in here. I am the least creative person you will ever meet in your life. But reading has been my life, my escape from a not so always pleasant world. I have emerged myself in the world of independent authors here on the web and on facebook and have met some great ones. But when I am asked who my number one go to and the person I can just fall away into the world with it is always you.

    Revising A Hidden Fire is ultimately up to you in the end, but I think that the book is fine how it is, the most important things at least to me in a book is if the story can make me feel like I am a part of it. If you feel like you can relate to the characters, feel what they feel. I know in A Hidden Fire I felt B, if felt her confusion, and her loss when she left Gio to goto LA. That is how you know you wrote a good book is when your own heart hurts along with the character you are reading about. I am not sure what you want to change about the book, but to me it will always be the book that lead me to you and I will always love it. Keep up the great work, and may you always be inspired to continue!

    p.s. I know in the next book in the beginning you have the pages from the journal B wrote to Gio, Have you ever thought of writing a novella of the journal? I know I was in tears reading along with that and would love to hear more about B’s experience in the Cochomo Valley. Just a thought!

  5. I am such a fan of your books. Read (multiple times) and own all of them. You really bring the stories to life. You have inspired me to consider writing myself. I was thrilled to see your blog entries on self publishing and read most of them. I missed the ones on:



    Any way you could repost or have a link available so I can read them? Thanks so much.

    Eagerly awaiting THE SINGER. Have it preordered. Will have to reread (again) THE SCRIBE.

    Thanks so much. Keep writing.

  6. Pingback: Inspiration. | Kari Nichols

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