Sunday, September 06, 2009

Riding Waves

Have you noticed how writing comes in waves?

Some days the words flood the page, two- and three-foot high waves that push in from some mysterious part of your imagination, wave after wave, and it can feel as if you are one with the waves, and the words sparkle with sea-spray, and you never want to leave the water.

On other days the waves are gentle, baby waves, barely noticeable on the surface of the water, and the words can feel as if they’re stagnant, and there’s little movement on the page, a word, then another word, the waves scattered and so tiny that they barely create a stir.

These rhythms of hard days and easy days are as mysterious as the way words emerge from our pens.

Are the stormy days the result of an emotional response to a particular aspect of your story... one that you’re struggling (in stormy fashion) to understand? Or are the rough days–when it’s not altogether safe to go into the water and better to stay on shore–the result of something else: an emotional crisis in your life, perhaps, or worries over a loved one, or fear of being overwhelmed by a financial catastrophe or some other kind of misfortune?

And why do we find ourselves the very next day sitting at our desk, part of a calm sea, feeling as if we can swim forever in an endless succession of waves that seem to carry us closer and closer to our unknown destination? Is it because we’ve found some kind of equilibrium in the work itself? Or in our lives?

It’s helpful to notice the waves–the hard days and the easy ones– as you’re writing.

If you’re riding a wave that’s carried you for a month or two, you may have unknowingly exhausted yourself (and your energy to keep searching for words)... and shouldn’t worry if you find yourself one morning sitting down at your desk and finding that the wave has subsided and you’re back in calm water. Maybe it’s time to take a break, to drift, to tread water, to look back over the distance that you’ve swum. Maybe it’s time to let yourself regain your strength and energy for when the next wave comes.

And, similarly, if you’re moping in the water, convinced that you’ll be trapped in the calm water for the rest of your life (which is how it feels sometimes, I know) and never swim anywhere, you may find yourself “trapped” in that particular spot for a reason that you can’t yet see. Although it may seem unlikely, that very spot may prove to be the place where you need to be to catch the next wave.

Patience is key in this endeavor–whether you’re riding a wave or becalmed in a gentle sea.

Being patient means accepting where you are at the moment–in a stormy or calm sea, on land far from shore, or at the water’s edge–and it means accepting who you are at the moment, too.

It means being willing to look closely at the world–wherever you happen to be, whatever body of water you happen to find yourself swimming in –and find the story that’s hidden just beneath the surface, waiting for you to discover it.

That moment of discovery can happen in any weather–stormy or calm–and in any location–ocean, lake, pond, or pool–only once you let go of your expectations of where you think you should be.

Noticing the rhythms of the way you write can help you feel more connected to the energy of your words and less anxious about your pace. Once you start noticing these rhythms, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of how you work day to day and what strategy might be best to pursue over long-term projects that last for more than a month or two.

Writing isn’t only about searching for words and stories. It’s about knowing yourself and learning what–at your deepest core–drives you to put words on paper.

Those stormy waves (when you think you might drown) are offering you a clue.

So, too are the gentle waves that lap at your feet as you sit in the sand by the water’s edge.

For more information on writing rhythms, visit:

1 comment:

Cindy said...

I love the analogy. Writing, for me, does come in waves--definitely made more difficult now by other distractions. It's not all about writing anymore. It's about balancing a family with writing. It's about balancing editing with writing. It's about balancing marketing with writing. Taking a break is definitely a necessity. A time for renewal to get us back in the sea where we belong.