Did you know that November is National Manatee Awareness Month?
Me either! Until now, of course.
And I’m excited to talk about it for a couple of reasons.
First, we writers could learn a lot from manatees. I’ve got four important lessons they have to teach us below.
Second, manatees hold a special place in my writer’s heart. Let me tell you about it.
During National Manatee Awareness Month, I’m Reminded of Snooty
I attended a week-long writer’s conference several years ago that made a big impression on me, mainly because of the stellar writers that were in attendance as speakers and mentors.
I met Dennis LeHane, Andrew Dubus III, Ann Patchett, Daniel Woodrell, Michael Koryta, and more, and couldn’t help but feel after the event was over that I had walked among literary royalty if only for a short time.
The conference took place in St. Petersburg, Florida, which is a gorgeous spot, and near Bradenton. That’s where I met Snooty.
Snooty was a male manatee who lived at the Bradenton Museum of Science and Nature. He broke records because he was the longest-living manatee in captivity—69 years old at the time of his death.
Having heard about him when I researched the area, I went to see him during that week I was there. I’d never seen a manatee up close, and was impressed by his size and how much he could eat! Plus it’s fun to watch manatees eat—sort of like watching bunnies, as their muzzles move a lot.
He had an adorable face and was very gentle.
Check out this video and you’ll see what I mean:
I was so struck by Snooty that after I got back home, I kept checking in on him now and then. The museum used to keep a live camera on him you could access. I was saddened to hear about his death in 2017.
Manatees Are Struggling In Florida
Manatees are no longer listed as endangered, but the University of South Florida notes that nearly 1,000 of them have died this year (2021) in Florida, representing 10 percent of the state’s manatee population.
Ongoing water quality problems have led to a widespread loss of seagrass, the manatee’s preferred food, and manatees also face threats from toxic blooms of red tide and boat strikes.
For more information on National Manatee Month, check out the Save the Manatee site here. Meanwhile, on to what writers can learn from these magnificent creatures!
4 Things Writers Can Learn from Manatees During National Manatee Awareness Month
1. Have thick skin.
The skin of the manatee is much like that of an elephant—its closest relative. It’s thick, wrinkled, and sometimes up to four inches thick. On top of that, it’s reinforced by densely woven collagen fibers.
That doesn’t mean the manatee can’t get hurt, but their skin does help protect them from whatever they may encounter in the wild.
Writers are often told they need to develop thick skins. That’s because we’re constantly putting our work out there and having to deal with what other people think.
Those opinions aren’t always positive, and we have to be able to listen, nod, and move on, without allowing criticism to stop our progress.
I like to imagine the manatee just floating along in the water. Would this creature be bothered by a one-star review? Probably not.
Yet for writers, criticism hurts, no matter what. Don’t expect that it won’t. But do work on how you respond to it. The best option is to sit with it for a few days, learn what you can from it, then keep going. Don’t let it get you down.
2. Dive deep and stay underwater.
Have you ever felt, when you’re working on your story, that you sort of dive underwater?
I have. When I get into the flow of a scene, it feels like I’ve gone way under. Eventually, I’ll come up for air.
Manatees can stay underwater for up to 20 minutes at a time before they must come up to breathe. That’s because their lungs are unique. They are flattened out, long, and positioned along the manatee’s back. This gives them a lot greater air capacity than humans and most other animals.
Humans are thought to exchange only about 10 percent of air in a breath. Manatees, by contrast, can exchange about 90 percent of air that’s in their lungs in a single breath. That means they can take in more oxygen, which allows them to stay underwater longer.
Writers often struggle to dive deep these days because of distractions. If you haven’t experienced a long, “in-the-flow” writing session in a while, it’s time to take a lesson from the manatee.
Put your cell phone in another room, turn off your Internet, lock yourself in a room, and imagine you’re diving deep with water all around you. Do this every day for at least a week and you’ll soon find it easier to get into the flow state with your writing. Then when you come up for air you may be surprised how much time has gone by!
3. Know the value of slow and steady.
You know by looking at them—manatees are not fast. To their credit, they don’t have to be, as they have few predators. No one bothers them, so they can afford to take their time as they swim easily from place to place.
While manatees can swim up to 20 miles per hour if they have to, their preferred top speed is 5 mph. But don’t worry—at that speed, they’ll eventually get where they’re going.
Writers can benefit from doing the same. It’s extremely rare for a writer to “make it” overnight. Most of the time, we have to gradually build toward success by taking little steps over and over again.
Write. Publish. Market. Build your platform. Repeat a zillion times.
Slow and steady wins the race, as they say. When you start getting impatient, picture the manatee, then calm down and soldier on!
4. Inspire your readers’ imaginations.
Picture a manatee. Now picture a mermaid.
See any similarities?
Me either, but it seems that some soldiers did!
One of the stories goes like this: Christopher Columbus was sailing near the Dominican Republic on January 9, 1493, when—according to his ship log—he saw “three mermaids, which rose well out of the sea….” He described them as “not so beautiful as they are said to be, for their faces had some masculine traits.”
History.com states that this sighting and other similar mermaid sightings of old were “most likely” manatee sightings. Of course, we’ll never know, but it is fun to imagine the slow-moving, thick-skinned manatee fooling a soldier into thinking he was an alluring mermaid!
Writers, too, are tasked with inspiring their readers’ imaginations. We need to take them to another world where our characters are believable so that the reader has no question that the character is what you say it is.
Even if it is a real mermaid!
Will you celebrate National Manatee Awareness Month?