On Starting


I plop to my butt in the snow and secure my boot in the binding. To get up, I do this awkward maneuver that involves pressing my hand down behind me and lurching forward with just enough momentum to stand up but not enough to fall on my face.

I stand poised at the top, my board perpendicular to the run extending below me. I’ve done this before. It’s been a year, but I’ve done this hundreds of times. I’ve done this very run dozens of times, at least, in my life.

And yet, I need to take a deep breath and convince myself to start.

This is unnatural. I’ll lose control. I can’t do this. I’ll fall. I’ll go too fast and hit something. My thoughts run loose in my head.

Shut up and do it. I shake my head, wiggle my toes, do this weird little hitch-hop to get momentum, and go.

I’ve been snowboarding since I was twelve or so—almost twenty years now. Most years, I get on the slopes just one or two days. A couple years in college I went on weeklong trips—four or five solid days of shredding (sort of). I’m not great at it, but I can get down pretty much any blue run and (sometimes) some easier black diamonds.

And yet, every time I strap in and scooch through the lift line for the first time, every time I less-than-gracefully slide off at the top of the lift, every time I check that my bindings are secure and gaze down the mountain, I have the hardest time pushing myself up and starting that dance with snow and gravity.

Within half a second of starting that first run, though, muscle memory takes over and my hips, quads, glutes, calves, whatever do their thing, and I turn and curve my way down. I watch the ground in front of me, keep an eye out for slower riders and skiers ahead, try to stay aware of how close I am to the trees, and constantly remind myself to “tell the board where to go,” as my friend once implored me during an impromptu lesson in high school. It’s easy and hard, simple and complicated. I’m focused on the big picture while my muscles perform the instant-by-instant tasks necessary to keep me upright.

Throughout the day, each time I get off a lift, it’s easier to just strap in, jump up, and go. My confidence returns with each ride and as I go down the same run three or four times, I learn about how it moves, the slow spots, the areas I can safely pick up speed, the icy patches to avoid, the bumps I may or may not be able to handle. After a couple tries, I take a certain turn harder, I know to watch my speed before approaching a steep drop, I feel more comfortable picking up speed during that drop, I scoot far to the side to attempt a small jump that’s been built up.

The first ride is just about getting down safely. The rides after that are about having fun, building confidence, and pushing my limits. And the couple times I’ve been lucky enough to go out more than two or three days in a row? The first ride of the second, third, fourth, fifth days feels like I’m just picking up where I left off the previous day.

How I wish it was the same with writing.

Every day, I open up my laptop and check either Gmail or my planner for the day’s tasks. I might be working on a nonprofit’s email newsletter or drafting a preview of a beer fest or trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about when describing a home’s architectural details.

It doesn’t matter what I wrote the day before, or even, in the afternoon, how much I wrote that morning. Opening up a new document and starting a new assignment is fucking hard and terrifying and almost every time, I just don’t want to do it.

It doesn’t get easier.

It’s not like I “warm up” and then pick up momentum and confidence as I go through my day.

Sometimes, when deadlines aren’t imminent, I’ll decide that my time today is better spent sorting through email or rearranging the piles of papers on my desk or tweaking my blog design. Anything, absolutely anything to not have to make words appear on the screen.

With snowboarding, the panicked mental chatter goes away as soon as I show myself I can still do this weird and crazy and exhilarating activity. With writing, I’m telling myself to shut up and do it from the first word to the very last word, every single day. That initial gut check, the terror that maybe I can’t actually do this, never seems to go away. And I can’t do anything but face it down, deal with it, and do my work.

Every single damn day.