I have no idea why I’m thinking of Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare—maybe it’s just because the Easter season is upon us and bunnies come to mind. Whatever the reason, I’ve been contemplating the story of the reptile and the mammal. What I’ve decided is, as writers, we need to have qualities of both.
Like the tortoise, we must be willing to move slowly. Our careers never hop along as quickly or smoothly as we might like. We must develop the patience and determination of the tortoise as it makes its way across the highway. You’ve seen one, slowly raising one wrinkled leg to take a step. The journey must seem a thousand miles to the small being, but, like the Chinese sage, the tortoise knows such an excursion begins with a single step. The tortoise is willing to take all the time it needs to achieve its ends. We writers must do the same. Just as you can’t hurry the tortoise along, you can’t hurry art.
Unfortunately, we are not born with a protective shell to cover our softer, more vulnerable parts. So, as writers, we have to develop that hard exterior so the inevitable rejections and disappointments of the writing life will not disappoint us. Without such protection, we might lose our ability to face the blank page altogether. I’ve known a lousy review to bench a writer for days. Sometimes, years. We can’t afford to expose our sensitive Creative Child to abuse. We must construct a shell.
Pausing along the road to take in the scenery, smell the newly budding trees and listen to the birds chatter as they awaken will slow us down, yes. But taking time for such things also enriches our spirits and our writing. Our lives, perhaps our most important work of art, will be deeper and more in touch with the Divine when we halt along the highway to experience an ‘eternal now’ moment.
But what about that pesky rabbit that comes hop, hop, hopping along behind us, rushing to the finish line? The truth is, we can learn from the hare, too. First, the hare is driven; getting there is the point. It takes a vision of what things will be like when we ‘get there’ to goad us along. The hare has such vision and is well-served by it.
The hare also is soft and furry, a gentle creature for the most part. As writers, we must cultivate our ‘soft and furry side’ (or our emotional intelligence if you prefer) so our powers of empathy can imagine what life must be like for the ‘other.’ The more we can connect with the humanity of the ‘other,’ the more we enrich our own humanity and the humanity of our readers.
The female rabbit has an amazing capacity most mammals lack; the female can be pregnant with one litter of bunnies and, before these are born, can become pregnant with another set. Like the mother bunny, as writers we often have one book idea with another looming in the background. This is a good thing—may we all be as fecund as rabbits!
Soon, warm weather will bring out the tortoise and the hare. When you see them, smile and wave in recognition. They are your muses.
By Anne Clinard Barnhill, author of AT THE MERCY OF THE QUEEN. Anne's new novel, still untitled, will be out in January, 2014.