People often say that someone “was raised by wolves”. Well wolves may not have raised me, but I certainly helped rear some of them. In exchange, they taught me how to write.
Before I had entirely grown up, I spent several years working and volunteering at a wolf research and education facility. At the time, the facility was home to 21 wolves, a herd of bison, and several foxes and coyotes. Though the animals were acclimated to humans – the staff and volunteers could go into their enclosures to interact with them and provide animal care – they remained very wild. I suppose that is why I began working with the group; I have always been attracted to wild things.
Though working with wolves sounds romantic, a lot of the tasks were not so picturesque. I helped build fences, do yard work, butcher animals, and clean out fly traps. But I also had the opportunity to give medication to animals that were suspicious of pills, to participate in research on wolf brain development, and to help raise four wolf puppies.
At first glance, none of those experiences seem terribly relevant to writing, but they taught me some great writing practices. Babysitting wolf puppies was the perfect time to brainstorm plot ideas and character back stories. The long days of physical labor forced me to learn how to wake up early and journal or write rough drafts before the official day began. Wolves taught me how to plan, how to stick to a schedule, and work towards a goal when all I wanted to do was take a nap because otherwise I would get nothing done. (I should note that wolves themselves are fans of ruining plans and altering schedules. And they do love a good nap.)
All of this is to say that we can gain the skills it takes to complete a manuscript by doing things other than writing. Learning how to be dedicated, how to prioritize, and how to use time effectively are all imperative to a writer’s success. I suppose that I could have honed those skills in another way. It just so happened that I learned them from wolves.
I imagine that many of us have had something like my time with wolves that encapsulates our experiences learning the practice of writing. I’d love to hear any of yours that you’d like to share. (Though I do hope that most people’s learning experiences haven’t involved anything as sharp as a wolf’s teeth. I always want education to be a gentle affair.)