The Wolf Chronicles trilogy is the first thing I wrote, and as I penned Promise of the Wolves, I was both researching wolves and learning how to write. It was natural for me to find parallels between wolf behavior and what it takes to write a book. Here are some of the things I learned from my furry muses:
- Howl: There are many theories as to why wolves howl. We do know that they do so to communicate with others and to nurture connections with packmates. They howl to be something other than alone in the world. Which is also why we write. It’s tempting to write what we think is marketable or will make us look cool or smart. But what do you want to communicate to the world? What is it in your soul that must escape in song? If you had one thing to howl to your fellow humans, what would it be? Start every project by expressing yourself in the purest, most unrestrained way possible.
- Be persistent in the hunt: Wolves sometimes follow prey for hours or even days before they catch it. Other times, they try again and again in quick hunts until they succeed. If they aren’t persistent, they don’t eat. Perseverance is the difference between a completed book and a bunch of pages. Every writer I know who has completed a book has persisted in the face of frustration, rejection, anxiety, fatigue, and self-doubt. Keep on going. Show up every day to hunt again.
- Know which prey to abandon: Sometimes a wolf will encounter prey it can’t kill. A smart wolf walks away to hunt another day. Sometimes, after you’ve given a project everything you can, it needs to go in the drawer. That’s OK. There are other stories out there. However, if you find yourself abandoning one project after another, you need to go back to persistence.
- When the food is abundant gorge now, digest later. Wolves never know where their next meal is coming from, so when they take down prey, they gorge (a wolf can eat 20 pounds of meat at once). When your story, article, memoir is flying from your mind onto the page, don’t worry about details. Don’t edit, don’t stop to research, don’t worry if you’ve got everything perfect. That can all come later. Just write. Devour the bounty and worry about the rest later. Table manners are overrated.
- Rest after gorging: After wolves gorge, they can most often be found napping. They give themselves time to digest before moving on to the next meal. Writers need to digest, too. Don’t try to force more writing after a great writing session, or even a not-so-great session. Your writing muscles need time to rebuild, your creativity needs time to regenerate. Give your mind time to rest. Even if (especially if) you are grappling with a challenge in your work, take a break. Some of the best solutions to writing challenges come when we’re doing something else.
- Know when to keep a steady pace: Most of the time, wolves run at a steady lope of about 5 miles per hour, which means they can go as far as 50 miles in a day. Writing a book is a Show up every day to write, keep it slow and steady until you get to the end.
- Put all of your energy into the sprint: Then there are times when wolves run full-out—to chase prey or escape from danger. They can run 38 miles per hour in short bursts. Sometimes you’ll be on the trail of something in your book and you’ll need to pounce. Go for it. Run all out and don’t stop until you’ve caught what you’re after or you’ve run yourself out. Sleep later.
- Know how to be alone: A wolf that can hunt alone can survive those time when she can’t be with her pack. Writers need to know how to be alone with their thoughts, and to find a bubble of isolation in the chaos of everyday life. Learn how to spend time on your own and to find quiet amidst the noise. You need to be able to be alone to go into your deepest heart where all the good stuff is.
- Know when to run with your pack: Wolves find companionship, help in the hunt, and safety in their packs. Writers, like wolves, need community. Find people who support, nourish, and challenge you in your writing life. Helping others is a wonderful way to learn and grow as a writer, and the knowledge and support of your writing pack will advance your own writing.
- Don’t forget to play: Wolves play even when they’re adults. It’s a way to strengthen pack bonds, blow off steam, and to just have fun. It’ s also how they keep their hunting skills honed and keep themselves in fighting trim. Don’t forget to play as a writer. All too often, we get caught up in the work of it. Remember that writing is about telling stories, and that stories live in the place of play. Let your imagination run free. Play games with your writing, take time to do the things outside of writing that you love, and your writing will be the better for it.
Before the wolves barged in the door, demanding that their story be told, Dorothy Hearst was an acquisitions editor at Jossey-Bass, where she published books for nonprofit, public, and social change leaders. She loves dogs but doesn’t have one, and borrows other people’s whenever she gets the chance. After seven years in New York City and nine years as a San Franciscan, Dorothy now lives in Berkeley, California.