We're Going On A Bear Hunt

I’ve been buying Christmas presents. In trawling the online bookshops for children’s books that my nephew and niece don’t already have, I came across one that I am already familiar with.

You can find it on the edge of the clearing in the forest where I hold the Wild Words workshop days here in France. It sits, alongside much heavier adult-oriented texts on psychology and writing, on the improvised outdoor bookshelf that is constructed from the thoughtfully angled branches of the grandest oak tree around. The book is ‘We’re Going On a Bear Hunt’, by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury. It’s a skilfully crafted story. As you read, the words fall like the rhythmic footsteps you make as you walk alongside the fictional family, in their quest to locate the bear.

“We’re going on a bear hunt.  We’re going to catch a big one.  What a beautiful day!  We’re not scared”. 

That optimistic tone is often what I hear from workshop participants at the start of a Wild Words day, often accompanied by a little nervousness.

In the book, as we journey deeper, and the explorers draw closer to the bear cave, the obstacles are increasingly foreboding, and frightening.

“Uh-oh! … a snowstorm, a swirling, whirling, snowstorm. We can’t go over it.  We can’t go under it.  Oh, no!  We’ve got to go through it!”. 

In our search for the Wild Words, as in any hunt for a wild animal, it’s true that unconsciously we’d do anything rather than come face to face with the void that is freedom of expression.

But, in the end, if we want to find flow in our writing, there’s nothing for it but to look those Wild Words in the face.

‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ is inspiring in this respect. This is especially true if, rather than head straight for the book, you watch Michael Rosen perform his own story.

The humour, the rhythm, the life of it. It’s a joy.

The Weekly Prompt

Imagine that your quest to free up your writing, or to be a better writer, is a physical journey in the real world. Write the story of this journey, in prose or poetry. What is the landscape like? What are the obstacles in your path? What do the Wild Words look like when you find them?

If you’d like to send me what you come up with, I’d be delighted to read it.

This article was first published on December 16th 2013

Wild Words: What Are We Frightened Of?

The important thing to know is, that just because you think you want to free those wild words, doesn’t mean there won’t be whole raft of ways in which you will unconsciously try to avoid doing that very thing.

Cutting away just as tension, emotion or drama heightens is one example. And there’s a whole sub-category of ways in which you will try to sabotage your relationship with me in our group or individual sessions. Don’t worry, I won’t take it personally.

We think we want to live and write in a way that’s unfettered, spontaneous, more instinctual, but it’s an unfamiliar way of being. Human beings, in general, cling to what is familiar, even if it’s unpleasant.

We’re frightened of the unknown. Added to that there’s the terror we feel when getting in touch with those strong emotions is offered to us as a possibility.

Be reassured, I will never go storming in and strip away the strategies, the defence mechanisms that you’ve unconsciously spent years erecting. I will never force you to face what lies behind. Freeing the tiger that way, might mean the tiger turns around and eats you, or me, or us both. No, we must be much cleverer than that, like a good tracker. A good tracker understands and works with his environment; he doesn’t see it as an enemy.

It may be that some, or all of your strategies no longer serve you well, but it’s important to acknowledge that your body and mind are doing the best they can to keep you well and safe, within the range of possibilities open to them.

So our starting point is to respect our own creativity, strength and resilience in this respect. It’s easy to be clear about what we have to gain by freeing those wild words, but it’s what you have to gain by NOT freeing them that is keeping you stuck. That’s what we need to work to understand. What is it that you have to lose?

This blog was first published on October 31st 2012