Writing about wildlife and wild places is more than my job. It’s a craft fueled by a passion for the natural world, that deep-rooted affection Edward O. Wilson calls “biophilia.”
It’s also damned hard at times. Not the “research” phase—nothing is more fun than going out wandering. Sling a pair of binoculars across my shoulders and I’m entertained for hours (or really, for a lifetime). It’s coming back inside and turning those experiences into art that’s tough.
There’s a chasm between having the experience and writing about it. All writers know this, and some struggle with it at times. When you’re in the midst of a fascinating event or a revelatory discussion, the last thing you want to do is interrupt the flow by pulling out your laptop.
Stopping to write something down in the very moment when you’re doing what you want to write about is especially tough when the subject of your muse is an easily spooked wild animal.
So how do I leap across that chasm between doing and writing? One trick is taking a small notebook with me into the field. It’s just big enough to capture facts and details, but not big enough to hold a first draft. I wait until I’m back indoors (or at least in camp) to attempt that.
When I do sit down to sketch out that first draft, my second bridge across the chasm is a simple mantra: Trust the creative process. There are times when I experience something akin to an actor’s stage fright. Sure, it’s worked before, I’ll think. But will it happen this time? Will the intriguing encounter I just had with a herd of elk translate into words that, if they’re good, could inspire my reader to go out looking for his or her own special encounter with the natural world?
If you’re looking for your own bridge across the gap, just remember what fuels your passion for the written word. For me, it’s nature; for you, it may be food or foreign travel or something else entirely. Knowing what sparks you is key.
The creative spark—the one that transformed experiences into art in the past—can and will do so again. Trust the process.