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Bike Writing

Whenever my fellow writers start whining about someone's overnight success -- and I guarantee that we do whine or snipe or snark or kvetch, jealously and frequently -- I cannot help but be reminded of riding a bike.

Racing downhill, pulled by gravity and momentum far greater than by you could manage on your own, is thrilling. You can relax for a moment and just enjoy the speed you earned. You pumped your legs up whatever steep hill came before, maybe walking your bike when the effort of riding it became too trying, perhaps even sitting and taking a break until you had the energy and confidence to continue. Maybe the forty seconds of rush as you descend are not strictly worth the work of getting up here, but that was never really the point of the endeavor. You rode up here because you enjoy biking or you need the exercise. Going down a hill is fun, though you may clutch your brake a bit to extend the descent and slow yourself to speeds less daring, but you were going to bike anyway.

But there are people in the houses you pass that didn't see (or didn't look for) the work it took to get to this point. They only see your speed, seeming so effortless (you barely even pedal!), and they glare enviously. They used to bike, when they were kids. They were pretty good at it. Not Tour du France, necessarily, but they bet they could get there with minimal effort. How hard is riding a bike anyway? You just push pedals down repeatedly. Anyone could do that, but you think you are just so special because you did it and are now going fast. (And they know you must think you are so special because you aren't stopping your bike to offer them a ride, or at least waving as you pass.)

Some people genuinely do have it a bit easier, but they are decidedly few. They have fathers who drive them to the top of hills and who follow them down, ready to do it all over again to forestall their precious baby having to exert any effort in their success. Some people were born on the top of hills and learned first to go fast. Genuine work is more foriegn to these people and they will never be as strong as those who have had to bring themselves to burning muscles, the sort that will ache tomorrow and the tomorrow after that, to give themselves the change to feel the wind in their hair.

Without a doubt, a good bike can help you go further with less effort. Riding on something rickety and rusted, something with twisted gears and a kinky chain, adds more challenge than most people can endure, but people will do it if there is no other way to get where they want to go. Still, a top of the line, fifteen speed bike does no good in the hands of someone who doesn't have the courage to go beyond their driveway. You need more than good equipment to be a good biker, no matter what magic a talented writer can seemingly make of it.

Unlike writing, bikers pretty much know the terrain and that there will be a reward for their efforts. There are few bikers who see the hill ahead and do not know what comes after, whether it is a meteoric plunge or a plateau with another hill behind it. With writing, the hill can go up seemingly forever. You may spend your whole day, your whole life, inching further forward and never get a reward for it. Or you can be riding on a flat, well-paved, shady road and then you start accelerating impossibly. Most writers are riding blind and hopeful.

I know that almost every person calling themselves a writer never builds up the momentum because they see the first hill (or the second or the twentieth) and turn back for home. The hills are so steep for so little and so unlikely a reward. They convince themselves that no one honestly sees hills like that -- mountains, really -- and keeps pushing forward. They tell themselves those who are zooming by all have Copenhagen wheels, steroids, and wealthy parents. To those teeming throngs who give up, there is no success but cheating. They don't realize that they are only racing against their own limitations, not anyone else on the road.


Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.


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