Sunday, October 30, 2005

Deep Water

There’s a kind of ebb and flow to the writing process. Words swirl like whirlpools at our feet; stories lift our spirits, and we ride them like waves.

Week after week, we can feel the tide of words rush in, then retreat. If we keep writing, we can feel the ripples of a story washing up around our ankles.

On some days the waves reach up to our knees and beyond. On other days our toes remain dry, begging for the feel of wet spray.

Each day we return to the beach in search of shells that other shell-seekers may have missed, trusting that the feel of the water will fill us with renewed energy; that the sound of the waves and the call of sea birds and the rush of the wind will help us find the words that are deep within us.

The daily effort of working our way into a story is a little like making our way past this shell-cluttered beach. We go barefoot, and the sharp edges of things that we can’t always see, cast up by the sea, pinch the soles of our feet, making it hard to reach the water.

But if we keep going, we can make it past the ridge of shells and sense the power and mystery of the sea drawing us toward the salty foam just beyond the lip of wet sand.

If we stand patiently in the surf, we can feel circles of words eddying around our feet, our toes buried beneath the sand as the words swirl and retreat, only to feel the words build up again under our toes with the returning waves.

Listening to the waves, we can hear the rhythm of our breath in the warm whisper of the surf.

And if we stare long enough at the horizon, sometimes we can see--like a billowing sail that appears out of nowhere--a wisp of something... an image... a scene...that will make its way into a story. (See it there... hovering like fog... over the gray-green sea?)

Each day we swim out a little further and plant our feet a little more firmly in the sand and let the waves lift us a little higher as we search for the courage to swim beyond the breakers in search of stories.

It’s a series of successes and failures, this process, with days when we wait for courage, unable to move, petrified by the size of the waves or the fear of the deep, as well as days when we move into the water as naturally as breathing.

And then comes a day when we venture into the sea and, like a miracle, our feet rise off the bottom, and we’re floating! How did that happen?

Claire Holcomb in The Fiction Writer’s Blog describes this feeling as she works on her novel:

“The process of writing reminds me of going through the waves at the ocean and beyond. I've never done that. But, where I am now, my feet aren't touching bottom. So, I'll do some prosaic things to ground me and then move out in the water again.”

Each day brings new discoveries as we enter the water... never knowing what we’ll find or how far we’ll be able to go... on our journeys into deep water.

Some days we may simply stand on the beach listening to the waves. Other days we may not want to come out of the water.

Why not share your own experiences of swimming in deep water–how you reach deep water, how you stay there--with other Wordswimmers.

PS - If you’d like to read Claire Holcomb’s essay on writing her novel, take a look at where Claire and novelist Emily Hanlon share their thoughts on the writing process.


claireHolcomb said...

Enjoyed your blog DEEP WATERS. I totally identify.(And was glad to see me quoted.)
The methapor of going deep is so right on. Also of stormy water, or skimming fast on the top, or watching a storm roll in....
You've a very interesting site, and I'll visit again.
Right this very day, I'm sorta on the beach, with no shoes, trying not to hurt my feet too much as work on structure and in the background feel the approaching difficult parts to write. The storm coming in. The silence before storm.
Write well,
Hey, did you see our contest. Maybe someone you know??? You're obviously a good writer and again, I enjoyed reading this.
Shalom Claire

jack said...

Things like the feeling of crumbling sand beneath my feet and the pull of an undertow sometimes get me when I recall some incident, irony, or events from personal experience that I thought to introduce into a story at hand. Sure it would be fictionalized now, but what if ‘characters’ still recognized themselves (or me) and were upset about the portrayal? I panic a little, and backtrack a little, till I’m standing in shallower water. So now I’m safer, phew, but somehow a little of the high energy of that story has gone.

My subconscious, that undertow, warned me about something, and didn’t want me to go any deeper. But maybe that’s a good reason I should, because it signals some deep sea swells of subconscious issues that might be explored to make the story.

I recently read "From Where You Dream”, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler, who strongly advocates writing from the place of the subconscious. So I’m a little excited now when I feel that undertow.

Enjoyed the post and earlier comments.