Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor
zette@cableone.net

 

Bridging the Gap (On Writing)

By Darin Park
2006,
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 watch TV.

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 possibly provide.

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 will.

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 with writing?"

Everything.

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.

Summation:

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 are increased.

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 http://www.dragonmoonpress.com

and

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1896944094/qid=1141963913/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-8300472-1413622?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy

Paperback: 360 pages

Publisher: Dragon Moon Press (July 2003)

Language: English

ISBN: 1896944094