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How Climbing Makes Me a Better Writer

Work-life balance is important, but sometimes life leaks into work. Here’s how a climbing hobby makes Kelsey Conner a better writer.

You can find me outside when I’m not behind the computer, usually trail running, rock climbing, or ice climbing. Those aren’t things I just do for fun (although they are fun). They’re a massive part of my life and certainly bleed into my work. Some of the skills I’ve learned on rock and ice have made me a better writer – here’s how.

1. Mastering the Art of Planning

Whether you’re traveling in the alpine or just headed to the local crag, establishing a plan with your team is a non-negotiable. Sometimes, that plan is more complex, like for a multi-day trip, and requires a lot of logistical pieces. Other times, it’s simply communicating that you want to project a route so your partner knows what they’re getting themselves into.

You can’t go into a blog without a plan. I mean, you can, but chances are, you’re gonna get way off-route. That’s to say, having a plan – an outline, keyphrase research, marketing directives – serves as that narrowed-down objective for the trip. It guides you and keeps you on task so you don’t wander down another route.

2. Learning Direct Communication

Once you’re on the wall, mountain, or boulder, clear communication is a must: you might be trying to shout over howling winds or frantically calling for your belayer to “TAKE RIGHT NOW” as your fingers slide off a hold. Now’s not the time to get wordy or avoid the point.

I like being wordy. That’s kind of my whole thing. But there’s a time and place for flowery writing, and an informative automotive blog is probably not it. Understanding how to communicate succinctly and get to the point is a skill that requires work for most folks but can seriously improve the quality of your work. It can also help strengthen your relationship with coworkers and clients.

3. Developing Endless Curiosity

There’s usually a certain amount of wanderlust and curiosity that comes with a love of the outdoors and climbing. I can spend hours daydreaming, consumed by planning travel to new places, researching the next objective, and dreaming of possibilities.

This curiosity leaks into my writing, too. It can look like the desire to learn everything about a subject that I can. It can look like researching and reading to improve my writing or even just consuming books. Curiosity means constantly asking questions, improving systems, and looking for ways to improve.

4. Staying Flexible

There are a lot of base skills in climbing that can transfer from one discipline to another and build on each other. You can transfer your knowledge of building top rope anchors on rock to building them on ice. Clipping bolts while leading sport is a building block to placing gear leading trad.

Likewise, writing skills transfer. Writing a product description for a furniture company might feel like a different beast than writing a technical blog for a livestock feed company, but you can use the basics that you know from one to be successful at the other.

5. Remember to Trust Your Feet

There’s a popular saying in climbing and other adventure sports: “Do it scared.” This calls on you to recognize your fear as a feeling and keep going – do what you’re trying to do, get through that exposure or sketchy move, even if you have to do it while feeling scared.

Sending your writing out into the world is terrifying. It can be just as scary as the feeling of looking down to see nothing but open air beneath your feet. Sharing art, whether a novel, painting, poem, or web copy, opens you up to criticism and potential failure that’s hard not to take personally. 

But at the end of the day, you have to learn to trust your feet. Just like standing up on a fracture of a hold, you gotta trust that your training, research, and hard have prepared you for this moment and let it fly.

Climbing indescribably enriches my life. There’s plenty of sunburn, broken hearts, shredded fingers, and a whole lot of bruises. I get scared, fall, cry, and spend a lot of money on travel and gear. But the lessons that I learn, even the painful ones, carry over in my day-to-day life and my writing in surprising and beautiful ways.

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