Though the homes in my neighborhood are equipped with modern necessities such as central air and electricity, it’s easy at times to think we sit on the border of unspoiled territory. Because for the most part, we do.
Across the road from my house sits about 30,000 acres of national forest, which is home to all manner of creepy crawlies. The boundary between civilized and not is clearly marked by a nearly straight line of neatly-kept backyards and a foreboding tree line of towering oaks.
Of course, neither man nor beast keeps to his own side. We all mingle with each other from time to time. Miles of trails leading into the mountains provide all a guy like me needs for feed his inner redneck. And as if to even things out a bit, everything from bear to deer to snakes to coyotes have been seen wandering our streets.
Most of us pay little mind to such intrusions, believing that the animals have just as much right to snoop around our homes as we have theirs. But there is one person in particular who is uneasy about the whole thing.
I speak of the kid down the road. Sixteenish and free for the summer. I remember the summer I turned sixteen, three glorious months of getting into more trouble than I’d ever gotten into in my life. Ask his father, and he’ll say he almost wishes his son would get into that same sort of trouble. Not a lot, mind you. But at least a little. After all, he’s sixteen. Trouble’s supposed to find you at that age.
But it hasn’t found him, mostly because he refuses to go outside. His days are spent staring out his bedroom window and writing about what he sees. He wants to write a book, he told his father. He’s serious about it. And while his father is supportive, he also knows it’s an excuse. His son doesn’t like his new home. Doesn’t like the small town or the big woods. He wants to go home to the city.
The family moved here from the city last year as the result of a job transfer. All this wildness suits mom and dad just fine, but not the boy. He woke up one morning in April to find a bear in the backyard. Found a snake on the deck a few weeks later. Though he refuses to admit it, they think it was all just a little too Wild Kingdom for him. So when school let out and he was free to do what he wanted, he retreated to the safety of the indoors.
He says he’s spending his time wisely. He’s writing. Working. There isn’t any time for much of anything else.
I heard about all of this the other night while out for an evening walk. His father was putting up a new mailbox, I stopped to say hello, and things just sort of went from there.
“He really is a good storyteller,” he told me. “Just wish he wouldn’t stay inside all the time. That can’t be healthy, can it?”
Not for a kid. And especially not for a writer.
There are a lot of would-be authors out there who think it’s fine to stare out of their window and write about the world. They take their journey within themselves because they’re unwilling or afraid to go out.
I can’t blame them for that. I was once the kid down the road, too.
Not afraid of bears and snakes, but afraid to go out the door. To face life in all its glory and pain. Give me a nice desk and some paper instead. Let life leave me alone so I could write about it.
Sounds a little strange, doesn’t it? But that’s what I thought. And that’s what a lot of authors think.
There is a learning curve to writing, of course. First come the simple words and simpler thoughts, which through countless hours of practice becomes better words and greater thoughts. No one denies this.
But there is another learning curve to writing that often goes overlooked, and that is the experience of living. Of plunging headlong into life and daring to swim in both the clear and the murky waters, and then using pen and paper as a towel to dry yourself off.
You have to hurt. And suffer. You have to love and hate and believe and doubt. You have to fail and succeed.
And the only way to do that is to go out and live before you come in to write.