On Writing As Flying


Imagine you’re an attentive bird.

You love flying because flying is what you do—it’s what you’re designed for.

You’re soaring high above a landscape—riding the air currents, maybe somewhere in rural England, or Western Canada.

You look down and notice the rolling hills, a stream that flows through them, and just off in the distance, a small forest.

You decide to take a closer look at it all so you swoop downwards—swoosh!—quickly and effortlessly descending from a height of several hundred feet to about twenty.

Now you’re in the thick of it.

Here you can see the texture of everything; you can smell the grass on the hills; you can feel the chill of the water and hear its gurgling sound.

Following the stream you notice a few humans standing along its banks, gesturing and talking and acting like they own the place. Under the flowing water you also spot fish moving quicksilver, steady and silent.

It’s all so perfect.

You keep gliding above the stream until it leads you to the edge of the small forest.

From above, the forest looked like a dense dark green patch, but here close to the ground all you see is its trees.

So many trees!

Angling your wings from side to side—you do this intuitively—you slip into the forest, darting in and around and up and over those trees, taking in their complex arrangement of space and the density of their canopy.

There’s so much going on in the thicket, so many levels of information that you could easily get lost.
Maybe you are lost. It’s chaotic but makes sense when you’re in it.

After a few minutes you make an abrupt upward turn and shoot towards an opening to the sky.

You climb and climb, riding the currents in a straight vertical ascent. Thrilling!

Higher and higher you go for the great view—the perspective—that it affords.

Once again above forest, now super high in the sky, you careen back towards direction from which you came.

Everything below looks tiny again.

You see the stream and how it flows through the rolling green hills, but you no longer feel the cold of the water.
You see the hills and the forest receding in the distance but no longer sense their complexities.

The humans standing on the banks are just little specks. They’re still gesturing and talking though.

You have perspective now—you can take in at a glance the order of things—because this is what you, an attentive bird, this is what you do.

You began high up, flew down below, then returned to a distance.

Someday you might remember the details of what you felt when you got close to everything–
a trace of what you noticed about those hills, the stream, or that forest will come back to you.

This is how writing is like flying.

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