Iditarod And Writing

My Alaska son sent me this photo. He took it of an Iditarod musher a few miles after the race’s official start in Willow, Alaska, last month.  Twilight comes early that far north, and I find the lighting makes the photo even more haunting. Think of it: a lone musher striking out into the wilderness, alone except for the sled dogs.



 Why, when we all desperately want spring to arrive and stay, am I talking about probably the most grueling and frigid sport competition, one that always happens in the winter?


Because it also made me think of writers. J 


CB040414The Iditarod race is one of isolation within the wilderness.  Pitfalls can happen.  The only companions for hours at a time are a musher’s dogs.  They speak the same language regarding the race and its objective.  The musher and his/her dogs become one during the race.


Like a writer and her/his words and story.


The Iditarod has history, personal stories and rivalries, interesting participants, mystery—the stuff of great books. A really great mystery about the Iditarod was written by Sue Henry, an Alaskan author, and titled Murder on the Iditarod Trail. I picked it up in an Anchorage bookstore on one of my trips to Alaska to visit my son. 


I thought of that book also when I viewed my son’s photo. (If you get a chance pick it up.) J


For over a thousand miles this team of dogs and musher battle nature and compete with others to win the prize.  But the race is solitary and the musher’s unique vision is what sustains him or her and produces success: winning the race—getting first to Nome.


Sort of like a writer’s life, right?



We are a solitary profession.  When we enter our writing zone, our vision of our story and the computer and keyboard consume us as we pound out our plot. But when writers have to chance to get together, what do we talk about?  Writing–its challenges, its glories, its pitfalls.  I’m not so sure about that with the mushers, and at checkpoints they do gather together throughout the race.



We have scary moments like mushers do. How will the markets, the changes in publishing, the loss of an agent or editor affect me?  What if no one loves my books, my voice, my unique world view?  What if I never finish this book?  Get into trouble along the way to the last chapter?  Do I have a plan to solve it? 


Sounds like the mushers with their steel-willed determination to get to the end of the race.  And writers need that same determination and perseverance to finish the books.  That, in itself, is winning, just finishing the damn race or the damn book.  J


Because some don’t.  For whatever reason.


Starting a new writing project or moving off into a new genre in our writing is much like starting the Iditarod in Willow.  You head out into the twilight, you’ve got your plan, you know the route, you’ve got your aids…but dangers lurk.My First Book Cover


Like mushers, writers must be prepared for the dangers they anticipate as well as for those unexpected ones.  Like mushers and their dogs, we are solitary, we are strong, we are determined, we will force our way to the finish line.  Then we have the satisfaction of knowing we’ve once again beaten the odds, finished a book, and just maybe, found the publication prize.


Yes, the Iditarod photo haunts me.  Inspires me.  Makes me think.  What about you?

Explore posts in the same categories: Character traits, Iditarod Race, Photos, Writing

6 Comments on “Iditarod And Writing”

  1. edie17 Says:

    Your son took a beautiful picture. It is haunting.

    It’s funny because as I was reading this, my cat was purring, demanding me to pet her. So I really am like the Iditarod mushers. They have their dogs; I have my cat. Only instead of helping me, mine is hindering me. 😉

  2. That is a beautiful picture! My inspiration… sometimes it comes from little things–a word, a glimpse of a scene in my mind. And sometimes from something bigger, but mostly, I just love to write. 🙂 Once a couple characters get ahold of me, I have to get their story down to the end, so after what ever the initial inspiration is, the characters then become my inspiration.

    Though, when I was writing one story, I found a picture at my parents’ rummage sale, of a cabin in the mountains by a stream that almost exactly matched the setting of where the heroine lived. The frame was beat up, and the matting around the picture was a hideous lime green, but I saw its potential. My mom gave me the picture and I had it professionally framed with beautiful dark oak, marblized brown matting with a 1/2 inch of hunter green that brought out the deeper greens and browns of the picture, and then promptly hung it over my writing desk. Many times while searching for the correct word in a sentence, I’d stare at that picture.

    Not all my books are set in Colorado anymore (they were at first because I love it there so much!), but I still like to day dream with that picture. 🙂

    Have a great week!

  3. caseyclifford Says:

    Hey Edie,

    Cats are great. My hubby’s allergic so we don’t have one.

    Thanks for stopping by. You have no idea how I’d have loved to have been with my son when he took that photo and watched the mushers pass by. That race has always grabbed my interest and I keep track of what’s going on each year.

  4. caseyclifford Says:


    Thanks for stopping in.

    I loved your story about the picture you have in your office. Yes, it’s amazing how each of us finds inspiration in the most unusual places and build from there.

    One time my hubby and I were in California, driving down HWY 1 along the coast in Big Sur when the fog got so heavy we had to pull over into a grove of trees just off the highway until it lifted.

    The fog tendrils, the isolation, the moist air collecting on the windshield and rivering downward to the hood, all intrigued me. And then the silence…

    No birds, no cars, no sound of the ocean.

    I’ve used the scene it two different ways in two completely different books.

  5. Great picture, Casey — thank your son. 🙂 And great observations about our lives as writers. I’ve watched two TV specials on the Iditarod over the years and have to say it captures my imagination too. What compells someone to want to take these risks — a fascinating character is lurking somewhere in this race. 🙂

  6. caseyclifford Says:


    I’ll be sure to thank my son from all who’ve commented. I’ve already thanked him from me. I love that photo.

    There are many interesting characters who’ve been part of the race over the years. Sue Henry, who I mentioned in the post, did a series with a female musher and I’m quite sure SH incorporated bits of those characters within those mysteries.

    Thanks for stopping by.


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