Perhaps you are too young to remember Robert Redford before he became a craggy monument to independent film, but he was really lovely in the movie Downhill Racer, which was all about a guy who liked to ski fast downhill. I liked looking at him, but I didn’t like the racing scenes. I was afraid he’d get hurt. I just wanted to see him in his nice turtleneck sweater, flirting with healthy-looking women.
Turns out, I don’t like being at the top of a hill on anything: certainly not on skis, or a bike, and not even when all I’m doing is hiking. On my bike, I wear out my brakes and watch my knuckles turn white when I’m going downhill. The whole time, I’m thinking about brain injuries and how I can never get the straps on my helmet to fit and so if I crash there’s no way my helmet will cradle my brain. I’m toast. Or an egg in a defective egg carton. I am also the slowest downhill skiier I know. I traverse a lot. Tiny children whiz by me, singing. I grit my teeth. And even hiking, I slip and slide down the hill, and hate it the entire way.
Uphills are just completely different. It was a happy day when I discovered that the function of a multi-gear bike is to enable you to pedal slowly up almost anything without wearing yourself out. I much prefer the quiet of skiing up a slight incline in the snow on a nice trail through the woods. If I’m in the shade, I can hike uphill pretty much forever. So, if you were to class the world into those who like to gain altitude and those who love the rush of losing it — I’m in the first group.
However, it turns out that the scenes I’m writing now in the novel I’m working on are downhill scenes. They’re the scenes of a rapidly unravelling mystery, of revelations that are significant even if they don’t lead to the answer the hero thinks he is seeking. Each scene of detection in this section of the mystery has the swoosh of the downhill about it. In fact, if you look at the arc a novel makes, the scenes I’m writing take place on the long downhill that comes after the uphill climb of the mystery I’ve been setting up for a terribly long time.
I’ve decided to write them quickly: in recognition of that steep downhill, thinking if I do so I might capture some of that rushing energy. To be honest, I’m also writing them quickly because I’d like to be done with this group of scenes, and maybe even the novel itself by the end of this month. (I have another novel lined up: one that’s in the first person, something I never thought I’d want to do, one that’s set in Paris after the second world war, one that explores the nature of love, one that will involve a lot of good food, sex and maybe some decent clothes.) This means I’ve got about ten days of fast scene writing ahead. That means writing without brakes, without traversing, slipping and sliding downhill. I’m a little nervous about it, but I keep reminding myself: nobody’s ever been seriously injured while writing too fast.