That damn window. If I lean back, I can see the top of the gondola from my desk. Staring out on a day like this, it’s anyone’s guess what my mind is gathering. Inspiration? Or excuses why this latest project can wait while I pursue a little “outdoor research”? Often, it’s both. Sometimes, good excuses lead to the best inspiration.
My past several years have been loaded with big projects: a book, a film and now the book about my film. The first two took a couple of years each. This latest book hopefully will be quicker — if I can keep my outdoor research in check. As a writing tutor in college, we called such techniques prewriting. Skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, tubing, finding a pint of liquid inspiration at happy hour: It’s all research.
But I really do get good work done up here. I’ve been skiing Steamboat half my life, but I officially have lived here since only 2010. That was when I put my big-project productivity to the test. I holed up for three months to finish my book. At the time, my humble little office was seconds from the Yampa River Core Trail, so lunch breaks included biking or skating past people fly-fishing, kayaking and tubing. If I hit my writing goals during the day, evenings brought the reward of a soak in Old Town Hot Springs followed by a burger and beer. Perks like that helped me chip away at the project.
With big projects, morale and willpower are critical. An article in Wired magazine argues that willpower is “a measurable form of mental energy that runs out as you use it, much like the gas in your car.” Lest you doubt this claim, it was proven with a plate of fresh-baked cookies. Study participants who were allowed to munch at will later were able to work longer on tough problems while those forced to steer clear of those chocolate-chip temptresses had less willpower reserves remaining when problem-solving time came.
Whether starting an entrepreneurial venture, pouring your heart and soul into your day job, or raising a family like it was your life’s mission, I suspect other locals can relate. Up here, there is a need to strike that balance between grinding out your day’s mission and grinding out a few laps on the local trails. For me, the perks (or distractions) of living in a playground like Steamboat Springs are as important as anything else I bring to my job.
There are days where I swear to myself I’ll strap into my desk and put in a solid six-plus hours of writing. Then I hear ski boots clomp on the stairs, I look out that damn window, and sure enough, the storm has cleared for another bluebird powder day on the mountain. I may be fatigued when I finally sit down at my desk after skiing or snowboarding, but there’s a new energy that often helps me finish six hours’ worth of writing in just a few. “Work smarter, not harder,” I was coached in my former desk job.
Perhaps it helps that the topic of my latest book is right at the heart of what I believe Steamboat is all about. Like my film, the book is called “The Movement.” It tells the stories of several people with disabilities who found freedom in the mountains. Local adaptive sports group STARS was a big part of its impetus. The idea for the book started up here in January 2010, when I participated in a STARS all-mountain camp for people with disabilities.
At that camp, I witnessed people who’d been dealt some tough cards and were looking for a way to reclaim their lives. While riding chairlifts with them and chatting over beers and community-provided meals, I heard their tales. It seemed that their breakthroughs on the mountain were translating into the morale and willpower to tackle life’s other challenges. So perhaps we have two fuel tanks — when one (let’s call it the indoor tank) runs short, we’d better run awhile on the outdoor tank. Or, as Warren Miller says: “People are round, buildings are square. Get outside.”
Now if I can just find the balance between running on my outdoor fuel tank and putting some 50,000 words down on paper, I’ll be in business. But out my window, I see the sun is warming those trails nicely. Hmm ...
— Greg Hamilton’s film writing/directing debut, “The Movement: One Man Joins an Uprising,” was selected for Sundance and 20 other film festivals, winning five awards and earning eligibility for an Oscar in 2013. Info: www.themovementbook.org.