By Charles Towne
The one thing I’ve learned from the writing life is that the hounds of knowledge always send the lions of fear running. I learned this from my own life as a zoo director, and para-phrased from Brenda Ueland.
As a zoo director and wildlife photographer I have been mauled by an African lion. In my lifetime I have been on the verge of drowning twice. I have swam with sharks, wrestled alligators, had an African leopard shot off the top of me with a ten gauge shotgun, been bitten three times by poisonous snakes, bluff charged by black bears and attacked by an angry African elephant… and after all of this, I am still terrified of writing.
I have been chased by a mad bull elk, had a tooth pulled by a drunken, masochistic dentist without the benefit of Novocaine, lived eighty some eventful years, survived three heart attacks, and yet I am afraid of writing.
The first time I entered a lion’s cage I was deeply moved by two almost overwhelming emotions – fear so intense that I could taste the bile of it rising up in my throat, and a sense of excitement so hot that it burned. There are those times as I write I sense the presence of those same identical emotions.
Perhaps the boy was eight or nine years old when he climbed the tree.
Way up there in the top of that tree he looked around and could see that he was above the tops of the other trees. Wow, he could see way over there! Then, he never could figure out why, he looked down, and down was an awful long way to the ground.
The first thing that entered his mind was a very profound, “How the dickens did I get way up here?” And then, ”What if I fall?” Followed in rapid succession by, “I might break an arm, a leg, my neck! Daddy always did say I was going to break my fool neck. OH M’ GOODNESS, I’M GOIN’ T’ DIE!”
To say the boy was scared was an understatement; he was terrified. He was probably going to starve to death way up there in the top of that tree, or he was going to fall and break his neck, or at the very least, be horribly crippled.
There was no way to know how long he stayed up in the nether regions of that tree. It seemed like days, but he eventually realized that his destiny was in his own hands, and inch by inch he made it to the ground and arrived home in time for dinner.
The next day, I went back and climbed that darned tree again and went through the same agony, the same fear, all over again. And again, and again, ad nauseam.
I grew to love that old tree.
For me, writing is like that, continually climbing that tree. And every time after I climb up there among the clouds, I have to make my way, inch by inch, to the ground again (that’s the editing process). And do you want me to tell you a secret? It never fails; every time I get to the top of my creative writing tree the view is more grand, more wondrous than before.
Ralph Keyes, in his excellent book The Courage to Write, explains it very well, and I quote, “A life of quiet desperation is no alternative for a working writer. To write well, they must risk themselves, and always in public. The one risk a working writer doesn’t run is of slipping into a safe monotonous dotage.”
And there you have it. Writing for me is the heart of creativity that pumps the blood of purpose through the veins of life.
SEVEN KEYS TO SURVIVING THE WRITER’S LIFE
(1) Know in your heart of hearts that as a writer you possess the gift of life. Some call this gift ‘talent’, others refer to it as ‘creativity’, whatever it is called everyone has it to a lesser or greater degree. Know that you are unique and that you have something important to say.
(2) As a writer, fear is not a thing to be ashamed of. There is not a writer that has not experienced fear – fear of rejection, fear of failure. Face your fears, your worst nightmares, and your writing will be the better for it.
(3) As writers persisting in our craft, we learn that it is possible to survive this incredible adventure we call, “the writer’s life.”
(4) As a writer you should never forget, the raging lions of the imagination are always, always, always worse than the lions of reality.
(5) As a writer you should remember, fear is a warning intended to keep us from danger, but we must also remember that 98% of all fear is created in the mind. In other words, it is not based on reality.
(6) As a writer you pay a price for what you do, but you also pay a price for what you don’t do, so write, by all means, write!
(7) In a bygone era one of the jobs of the sexton, other than that of digging graves and burying the dead, was to listen for the tinkling of a bell. This was in the days before embalming was common, when the poor soul sometimes awoke from a coma to find they had been buried alive. A cord was tied around the wrist of the unfortunate and on the other end of that cord, above ground, was a bell. Upon hearing the bell ringing the sexton dug up the recently awakened.
Our job as writers is to listen for the bells of inspiration, and by the light of the lantern of the imagination, we will take up our shovel of research and craft and liberate the buried story.
A WRITER’S PRAYER
You are holy and grand ,Lord God. You are all powerful, and awesome in that power. Teach me. Inspire me. Reveal to me your will in all things. Let me come to you now and pour out my heart to you. Let me worship you in all of your power and glory. Accept my heartfelt prayer, and hear my words, for I love you, and you give me great joy. Guide me into your paths of righteousness. Let me always realize your presence, let me know your compassion, your love, your mercy, your tenderheartedness, that my life will be acceptable to you. You are so good to me Lord, you are my keeper, my protector, and my friend; in you do I trust. There is nothing that I want more than to please you O Holy God. Let me worship you in the fullness of your glory, for you are my God. In the sweet, sweet name of my lord and Savior Jesus I ask this, knowing that you will give what I ask. Amen.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.