Barbara: I was chatting with a friend the other day—she’s one of those wellsprings of knowledge, highly intelligent, astute, straight-shooting, the kind of person I wish I could have on speed-dial for succinct answers to my ever-wondering questions. I mentioned to her that I was taking a creative writing class that was dedicated to developing our novels as a whole before we started writing the nuts and bolts, so we could have “a blueprint” first. I explained to her that I had, in fact, already written the novel, but needed an overview in order to do my next re-write. I had found that I’d come too close to my work and couldn’t see the forest for the trees.
My friend pointed out that this was common for women. Now let me stress that my friend is not the least bit sexist nor is she a random generalizer: but she had an interesting point (and she made it far more succinctly and elegantly than I will here, so bear with me!). If we look back to our tribal beginnings, men had to hone their broad awareness instincts—they had to see the whole of the forest (or plain, or savannah, or what-have-you) because that killer could come at him from any direction. He had to possess a fundamental and pervasive knowing of what was around him at all times. If not, he risked his own life and the lives and wellbeing of his tribe.
But our ancestral women-folk were back at the village, gathering. They needed to have a finely-tuned awareness of every seed, berry, fruit, and nut, in short, every vegetation food source that was hiding (but probably not about to kill her) in the thick foliage of those trees, bushes, and grasses. She had to observe details with precision and accuracy in order to feed her family a—let’s face it—balanced diet and so keep them alive.
And these two primitive conditioners are engrained into our DNA because for tens of thousands of years, they worked! We survived and developed and evolved into the fascinating and complex creatures you see before you now.
Of course, I believe that many of us have developed past this divider between the sexes (yes, there are women who have broad vision and men who are great with details). I also believe that we’re able to develop our awareness outside the primitive boxes we may naturally incline towards. But I really appreciated this a-ha moment of seeing this particular forest for its trees.
And not only was it an interesting eye-opener, or light-shiner, but, as these kinds of epiphanies often do, it suddenly empowered me. If I know my weakness—and, even better, if I can blame my weakness on genetics!—I can consciously work to improve it.
Yeah, sure, I had already signed up for that overview creative writing class, and, yes, I had already realized that for this particular project, I certainly needed to improve my ability to see the big picture. But now I know that the skills I build in reviewing and rewriting this particular project will also need to be skills I carry forward with me to all my other projects.
I aim to be a nurturer of trees, but also a Park Ranger of forests. Not just in writing, but in life.
Deb: I have always loved this expression as it covers so much in life. An elegant saying indeed. I think you have found the perfect balance for your book, Barbara, in this theory.
Sometimes that which is right in front of us is painful. Sometimes it’s scary and sometimes it requires us to do things we are not ready to do. I find for me, I have always been able to see the forest despite the sometimes huge growth of trees, but am often reluctant to venture in.