Many writers these days reveal that writing was their childhood dream. I always wanted to be a writer. That’s not true for me, at least I have no distinct memory of it. I wanted to be a park ranger or maybe a surgeon. Let’s skip the surgical dream, since it never came true. But I did become an interpretive park ranger in Yosemite National Park, and recently I’ve noticed how similar that job is to the one I’m aspiring to now. I found a thought provoking quote from science fiction writer Brian Aldiss that helped me see the connection between my two lives.
There are two kinds of writer: those that make you think, and those that make you wonder.
– Brian Aldiss
In my previous career as an interpretive ranger, my goal was to make people think and to make them wonder. Connecting people to the cultural and natural history of national parks meant asking people to reflect on what it means to be human, how humans fit into the bigger world around us, and just how remarkable that world is. When I was a ranger, visitors joined my walks or snuggled close to my campfires, to hear what I had to say about the park. The commitment on their part was short–maybe an hour or two. Mostly, I addressed a choir of already loyal nature lovers and park supporters (you know who you are). And hopefully, they came away thinking and wondering, or at least having enjoyed a good crepuscular howl at the moon.
As a writer, I strive for the same goal. But the parameters are different. Rather than using inspirational scenery to draw people in, I must develop abstract landscapes through the written word. It’s a different experience, and in many ways significantly more difficult, than my previous work. In Yosemite, I relied on an existing history, raw material if you will, to draw inspiration from and only had to find the magic within the material before me–cultural stories and natural events–in order to pull people in and inspire them. Now, I spend time crafting an entirely new world–even if the story has a contemporary setting. Most days I’m writing at the computer and very often in my head, mulling over scenes and characters and storylines, and I spend an awful lot of time staring at certain points on my wall in search of inspiration. How I miss the glorious days of a life spent outside! But I love the process of pulling something out of nothing, or at least out of less. And, of course, I love seeing how close I can come to inspiring reflection and wonder with my writing.
Come to think of it, I read books for the same reasons. To think and wonder.
Why do you?
While you consider this, I’m going outside. My new work-in-progress, Momentum, is a based in a ski town. The snow is melting fast and I could use a bit more snowy inspiration. Guess I’m not stuck inside or without raw material after all.