Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

A Map of the Unknown World

By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 1, 2017

 

[Continuing our series on the Professional Mindset … ]

 

I’m reading a great book now (thanks, Bill Wickham, for turning me onto it) called Bugles and a Tiger, My Life in the Gurkhas by John Masters.

A WWII Gurkha with famous kukri knife

A WWII Gurkha with famous kukri knife

This is the kind of book I absolutely devour—a straight-ahead memoir, no plot, no characters, just an absolutely true account of a fascinating life experience, in this case the tale of a young Brit who served in India in the 30s in a legendary Gurkha battalion.

What exactly is a Gurkha?

The Gurkhas are Nepalese peasantry. Modest of stature, often illiterate, incredibly hardy and brave, loyal, dedicated and true, they have covered themselves with glory in every war they’ve fought in.

Here’s a story from Bugles and a Tiger (trust me, this relates back to writing and to the Professional Mindset):

 

A Gurkha rifleman escaped from a Japanese prison in south Burma and walked six hundred miles alone through the jungles to freedom. The journey took him five months, but he never asked the way and he never lost the way. For one thing he could not speak Burmese and for another he regarded all Burmese as traitors. He used a map and when he reached India he showed it to the Intelligence officers, who wanted to know all about his odyssey. Marked in pencil were all the turns he had taken, all the roads and trail forks he had passed, all the rivers he had crossed. It had served him well, that map. The Intelligence officers did not find it so useful. It was a street map of London.

 

I can relate to this saga completely. I have written entire books (The Legend of Bagger Vance for one) where I was navigating with total confidence by a map in my head, only to realize later that the map bore no relation whatsoever to the ground I was marching over. Yet I made it home.

I’ll bet you’ve done it too.

Our Gurkha rifleman had no legitimate map, but he had something better.

He had a professional mindset.

He had confidence.

He had self-commitment.

He had faith.

He knew the sun rose in the East and he knew he was heading northwest. He knew to keep his own counsel, trust no one but his own inner guide, and to keep on trucking.

Who cares if there was no Hammersmith or Wimbledon in the Burmese jungle? There was the stream, there was the crossroads. “You gotta believe.”

Prince Harry visits the contemporary Gurkhas, 2016

Prince Harry visits the contemporary Gurkhas, 2016

In the end, you and I as writers are guided in our work less by the specifics of our self-designs or structural concepts (however helpful such systems might be) and more by a calling in our hearts.

The story we’re telling knows itself.

It knows where it’s going.

It’ll tell us if we listen.

Our Gurkha rifleman may not have been able to spell Shepherd’s Bush or King’s Cross. But he knew his heart.

He knew his way home.

 

 

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

10 Responses to “A Map of the Unknown World”

  1. Gaelle1947
    March 1, 2017 at 6:25 am

    and WOW – your article found its way home straight to my heart!

  2. Mary Doyle
    March 1, 2017 at 6:53 am

    The idea of writing our way home – wow! Thanks so much for this.

  3. BING
    March 1, 2017 at 7:08 am

    He knew to keep his own counsel, trust no one but his own inner guide, and to keep on trucking. I love that line. This fellow is unstoppable. It appears he has so little to work with (like myself) on so many levels, but the truth is in his crazy heart he knew he had enough to complete the journey and so do I.

    Thanks Steve.

  4. Nik
    March 1, 2017 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for the recommendation, I’m going to check that book out. I’ve read a bit about the Gurkhas and they’re extraordinary.

    What’s crazy is that they’ve fought in two centuries of wars and they’re still at it — and not only are they still at it, but they’re still forging new legends with their bravery.

    There’s a Gurkha named Dipprasad Pun who defended a checkpoint in Afghanistan, alone, against a group of some 30 Taliban, back in 2010. The dude used hundreds of rounds, grenades, even a mine, and when his ammo was spent he used a tripod from a gun emplacement to beat the last attacker, who was trying to hoist himself onto the roof of the checkpoint to get to Pun.

    Here’s a story from the BBC that details the attack and Pun’s heroics:

    http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-13619825

    And another from the Mail Online:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1393355/Hero-Gurkha-handed-bravery-medal-Queen-said-I-thought-I-going-die–I-tried-kill-I-could.html

    It’s worth mentioning that Pun was alone because the company that manned the checkpoint had been called out on an emergency, and the attack was supposed to be an ambush. Apparently he heard some strange noises, investigated, and saw the Taliban laying an IED near his position.

    That’s some hardcore Polynikes ish right there!

  5. judith feldman
    March 1, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Just what I needed. As i find the strength and faith to complete the journey. Thank you! judith

  6. March 1, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    Speaking of theme, the book has an overt theme: everything they are doing in that peacetime army is getting ready for the big one—the book ends on the eve of war.

    One of the humorous parts is when Masters pulls a Yamamoto and takes a road trip across the U.S. to see what his future ally is like. (Yamamoto failed to impress on his fellow fascists what the industrial might of the U.S. was)

    As you know, even back then California was a crazy place. At one point he is wearing a sheepskin and other silly stuff, and his rattletrap car has a California licence plate. An American says, “Would you mind settling a bet? What part of California are you from?”

  7. March 1, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    This is so refreshing to hear. So often we as writers are asked about our planning process and there is an expectation that we should have everything mapped out.

    That isn’t my style and I have tried the organised approach but always fallen back to my own fluid and faith-filled way of writing.

    Your post has affirmed my methods :) – why is it writers always need affirmation?

  8. March 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Can’t put any words here, other than “good stuff.”

  9. March 6, 2017 at 7:33 am

    great reading, and yes. when we use our hearts as our gps: we are always write where we belong and headed in the write direction.

    it is a language/communication system which does not require literacy

    but does require practice.