On unicorns, hobbits and the enchanted forest of writing

Unicorns and hobbits

My daughter is big into unicorns. Huge. She displays academic tendencies and leanings in how she expresses her interest in the world. She likes research. She’s deeply curious. Right now, she wants to know everything there is about unicorns. She wants to read all the books, record all the data. She wants to look at maps and plan trips and excursions to remote locations, to track and spot an elusive unicorn.

I like her style and I perceive her why: She wants to be in the presence of that something elseness, the something that isn’t exactly present in our every day; the something we only half-know and experience on the outermost edges of ourselves.

Her enthusiasm for unicorns reminds me of my enthusiasm at a similar age for hobbits. Seeing Bilbo or one of his mates would have been enough, to be in his presence. But I think also it was about befriending the strange, the other, the something elseness.

In search of the ‘something elseness’

I was as attracted as a moth to the moon by the notion of things unseen and now that I am witnessing this same attraction in my daughter I am led to suspect – this is in fact in all of us.

For many of us, that’s why we read. We’re hungry to get to the place in the story that says the thing that we’re almost aware of. It’s also, I’d wager, why we write. To find the hobbit or the unicorn, to stand in the presence of the something elseness and be – perhaps – transformed by it?

These days, the cynical view of ‘chasing unicorns’ is that it’s a fool’s game. You’re striving for the impossible, it’s a waste of time, a pointless activity.

I think sometimes that is what we tell ourselves about our writing. It’s foolish. It’s a waste of time. We’re striving for the impossible. I just recently watched Ira Glass talking about how critical it is that we don’t quit when we find ourselves in what can feel like this creative wasteland. Most people do. But what lies on the other side of it? If we get over that mountain ridge and face down Smaug might we not go home with gold in our pockets and tales on our tongues?

I think about my daughter. She’s having a blast imaginatively figuring out how to be the person who discovers the unicorn in their natural habitat.

Finding our writerly comrades

I think about us as writers and I think that’s part of the job. Being enchanted by what we do doesn’t mean that we skip endlessly through wildflower meadows like some 1990s shampoo advert. It means sometimes it’s cold and dark and miserable and there are trolls whose only pleasure is in hanging us up by our feet whilst they prepare the fire to roast us on.

That’s when we need comrades, the cut and thrust of a trusty blade, wielded by one who is true of heart, who can cut us down and get us the hell out of the darkness and the danger. We don’t get out to go back to our safe cosy homes, though the thought of them brings comfort; we do it to progress onwards, to find the next adventure, the next tough spot writing wise to get ourselves in and out of.

To paraphrase a wizard – It’s a dangerous business, setting words on the page. There’s no knowing where you might be swept off to. But really, is there anywhere else you’d rather be?

What about your writing?

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