A nonfiction writer is a person who loves learning new information and feels the urge to communicate what she/he has learned to other people. We go through the years finding intriguing topics and putting what we learn in a form we hope will inspire and engross our readers. We work hard while pursuing this goal. We meet experts, read their writings, and visit some fascinating locales if we’re lucky. Then we sit down in front of our computers to condense and organize all this information and make it easy to understand. Our goal is to help others, but I realize now how much we do for ourselves while being dedicated to looking for truth and communicating our knowledge to others.
Very importantly, in this quickly changing world full of people with different, often clashing views, our work helps us be more open in a number of ways. We learn to explore all sides of a topic, to investigate different versions of the “facts,” and to communicate the complexities of “there are no simple answers” to our audience in clear, nonjudgmental language. Nonjudgmental is a big part. Years ago I wrote “Where the Wild Horses Roam,” about wild horses in the West. There were, and still are, big controversies about these animals. To some, they are a symbol of wildness, an integral part of the history of the American west that must be honored and protected. To others, like ranchers who purchase grazing leases on the public lands that house the horses, these equines are not just a damn nuisance. They “steal” the vital and sometimes sparse food the cattle need to fatten up and provide income for the ranchers.
I did my best to express the concerns of both sides and shrugged. “If both ranchers and wild horse advocates hate me after reading this, I’ll know the book is good.” But I was wrong—both sides appreciated what I wrote because I stated each side of the story accurately and without any evaluative language. They just wanted to be heard. I try to keep that lesson in mind whenever I write about a potentially controversial topic. “Just the facts, ma’am” has become my mantra.
That’s just one example of the unexpected bonuses I’ve received from this work. Now, after more than 40 years in this business, I realize how much of value I’ve learned, not just the facts and theories, the interactions and exceptions, but also the variety of it all—so many cultures, so many ways of seeing the world and of being in the world, so much glorious variety in Nature. So, as you can imagine, I’m nowhere near finished yet. I want to continue learning and communicating as I keep finding more and more intriguing stories available for exploration.