In my twenties, on an Alpine snowboarding trip, I led two friends beyond a “no entry” sign onto an ungroomed trail. Intuition told me it would dogleg around the mountain and rejoin the main drag lower down. It was the first run of the day, and we whooped with joy, carving tracks in the pristine powder. But as we descended, I worried we were heading in the wrong direction. I suggested we stop and go back, but my friends took one look up the steep snowy slope and shook their heads, so we continued on down the mountain. Soon we were completely alone, beyond any signs of civilization, surrounded by snow, ice, and rock. We had no cellphones, no snacks and nobody knew our whereabouts. I insisted we stop, turn around, and head back.
What took 10 minutes to ski down took us three hours to trudge back up. The climb was so exhausting one friend vomited. Eventually, we reached the top and collapsed with relief.
I was reminded of this escapade when I was drafting my book in the Novel Incubator. Three months in, the story I was working on seemed to be heading in the wrong direction. The idea just wasn’t good enough. I had too many points-of-view to manage, too many timelines, and I was getting lost. I knew the further I went drafting the book, the more committed I became, the more difficult it would be to change my mind.
In our Novel Incubator Zoom sessions, we talked about how self-doubt can be a form of resistance and fear, and how we shouldn’t always trust our inner voices. However, the lesson I learned on the slopes that day—that sometimes giving up on an idea is the wisest thing you can do—gave me the confidence to scrap my story and start over. It was a hard slog to catch up and put together a full-length manuscript in time for our reading rounds. I had to find a simpler story and work with focus and intention, but I got it done.
Who knows where that closed mountain trail led? Perhaps it wouldn’t have ended in disaster. Who knows where my abandoned story was taking me? Perhaps it would have turned out fine in the end. But in both cases, the risks of moving forwards seemed scarier to me than the risk of starting afresh. When you start again, you get a chance to reflect on the decisions that led you astray, so you can make better decisions. Maybe getting a little lost is just another way to get where you need to go.