Bridging the Gap (On Writing)
By Darin Park
You think you know someone --
then they tell you something that causes you to do a complete re-evaluation.
I've recently had to
re-evaluate my mother. Let me explain a bit about her before I tell you what
I discovered. She was born in Newfoundland in 1943. Growing up, for her, was
no bed of roses. Chores filled her life more than childhood play. During her
marriage she gave birth to six children -- five lived. Her first child had
died of what is now known as "crib death." She scrubbed baby diapers by hand
with a washtub and corrugated scrubbing board, until she could afford the
then brand-new washer and wringer/dryer. I could go on about how her life
has been up until now, but let me just put it to you bluntly: the woman is
as tough as nails.
This is a work of fact, not
fiction, and I've come to call it the "Bird Story." Here's how it goes:
My mother is sitting on the
patio, enjoying the sun, waiting to watch her favorite soap opera. She can
hear the chirping of young birds. In the eave of her house is a nest with
new hatchlings. She knows this because on occasion she's had to pick up a
dead infant that has jumped from the nest in a too-soon attempt to fly and
dispose of it. The time is close for her show. Soon she should go inside to
There is suddenly a loud
series of bird calls and chittering. Curious, my mother walks to the corner
of the patio and looks down to see a young bird staggering about on the deck
next to the house door. He's unhurt, but very young. Apparently, he had
tried the same trick of flying, stepped out of the nest, and tumbled to the
deck below. He must have spread his wings instinctively and caught enough
air to cushion his landing, but now, he's trapped on the deck with no way
back to the nest.
Looking up, my mother sees
the mother bird. (Let's call them sparrows for want of a bird type. My
mother didn't know what they were -- just birds.) The mother sparrow is on
the eave by the nest calling down to her young one. The sparrow on the deck
is crying incessantly, plaintively, shivering and hopping about. He has no
idea how to get to his mother. The sparrow on the roof jumps into the air,
flutters its wings for a couple of strokes, then lands again. It calls to
the young one below. The young bird just hops and cries, hops and cries.
My mother feels sorry for the
bird, but she knows she can't pick it up or touch it. She would do more harm
than good trying to help this young bird. So she just watches and silently
hopes the bird realizes it has wings. Mentally, she pushes her thoughts to
the bird -- fly. You can fly. Watch your mother. She's showing you what to
do. Just do what she's doing.
After about ten minutes of
this, the mother bird never ceasing in her calls or her leaps off the roof
and little flights, there is sudden silence from the young sparrow on the
deck. He is watching his mother intently, his little head turning from side
to side. She keeps calling and taking little flights.
Mom watches the little
sparrow spread his wings and flutter them, taking a tentative leap into the
air. The mother sparrow gets very excited, her calls changing pitch, almost
as if she is adding words of encouragement. Mom holds her breath.
Three times the little
sparrow leaps into the air. Three times, the little sparrow comes back down.
Each time, the wing flutters get faster, beating more strongly, and the
sparrow comes back down more slowly. Then, as if something is lighting up
the entire bird, Mom notices a change in his attitude and she can fairly
feel a sense of rapture emanating from him. The fourth time into the air,
the sparrow stays there, fluttering furiously, and in the space of a few
heartbeats, he wings his way to his mother and the safety of his nest.
Erratic flight to be sure, but it is flight, and he has finally bent wing to
bridge the gap between himself and his home.
As my mother finished this
tale of recent spring, her eyes held a strange dreamy quality and on her
face was a smile that I hadn't seen there in years. In my heart, I have
always loved my mother, loved that "tough as nails" woman that brought me
into the world, the woman who chastised me when I was not exactly on the
good side of childhood (in fact, I was downright incorrigible), and now I
loved her even more. Her soap opera had gone on without her, and she had
cared not a bit. Her intense interest in watching a young bird learn to fly
for the very first time had caused her more joy than any program on TV could
Belatedly, I realized that
there were a few morals to this story and I will attempt to list them below:
1. In relation to my mother,
people, no matter how well you know them, will always surprise you with
something new. You cannot judge a person's character by what you see,
because all you really see is the surface, the cover to the book, if you
2. In relation to the
"sparrows," the little bird didn't know how to fly, didn't know it could.
The mother, its teacher, patiently kept showing it how to do it, lending its
expertise to the young bird until it was willing to listen to someone in the
"know" and follow the example it was seeing. We are all young birds, and
it's only through stopping and watching what's being shown to us that we are
able to learn from those who can aid us and then to fly on our own.
3. In relation to the actual
flight, the sparrow learned from its mother but still flew a slightly
erratic course to its nest. It is true we can learn how to fly from
instruction, but our course may deviate from the course we are shown. That
is due to individual differences and skill sets.
Now, the crux of all this is
in relation to writing. And you were thinking, "Now, what's this got to do
Picture yourself, the writer,
as the bird on the deck: young, innocent, knowing next to nothing. You want
to write a story, a novel, and get to your "nest," which could be the symbol
for publication. However, you can only hop from the deck, never reaching the
nest, which seems to rest an unreachable distance away. There above you is
the writer who has been there, calling down, giving you instruction on how
to proceed, how to form your sentences -- how to spread your wings and learn
to fly. You try three times and find that you get better each time you try.
Then, once you've mastered
your wings, learned what you can from the "teacher," you stretch out and fly
towards the nest. Your flight represents the story you write. Now, let's say
that you land on the roof beside the nest. Well, you've missed publication
but only because your course wasn't the correct route. The next time you
take flight you may well land right in the nest and achieve your goal.
We can learn best from those
that already have the skills and knowledge to pass onto us. Listen, emulate,
and we can gain those same skills.
We can succeed if we continue
to try. If we stop trying, we will remain on the deck and learn to live off
the land rather than in the air where we are meant to be.
Publication is a goal but not
the only goal in the writing field. Every word, sentence, paragraph, page,
book we write is a stepping-stone into the air. As long as we write, we will
improve our skills, until our course is as true and swift as a sparrow's
flight to its nest. As we get better at "flying," our chances of publication
But, to bridge the gap, start
at the beginning. Every author that has come before you had to start at the
first page, the first line, with the first word. And every author that comes
after you will have to follow that same course. There is no other way. In
order to reach the nest, we have to learn the skills along the way.
In the end, there is no other
outcome but that you learn to fly. Fly well, my friends. One day I hope to
meet you all and we can huddle together, sharing experiences and looking out
at the world from the confines of our nest...
Darin Park is the creator
of The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, available at
Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy
Dragon Moon Press (July 2003)