Sunday, December 20, 2009

Beacons of Light - 2009

Once again we come to the end of a year and can take a moment to look back over the distance that we've swum, grateful for the contributions that other writers have made to help us on our journey.

With their words, their insights into writing, these writers have illuminated the water for us, serving as beacons of light as we made our own path through the sea over the past year.

The light cast by their work, their words, enabled us to see just enough ahead to find our way, and stroke by stroke, to gain new perspectives on our work, new ways of seeing our words on the page.

To all of you who have joined us in the water over the past year, many thanks for helping keep us afloat and for inspiring us to keep swimming. May you continue to find joy in the water in 2010!

We'll be climbing out of the pool for a few weeks to dry off and rest a while, and we hope you'll take a break to refresh yourself, too, and then dive in and rejoin us next year.

Until then, I hope you'll take pleasure in reading excerpts from some of the writers who served as beacons of light for Wordswimmer over the past year:

Aharon Appelfeld:
“With an artist, what’s very private paradoxically becomes universal. A child’s fear, to go back to the example that I’ve given , is fear that’s linked to 1939, but at the same time it’s the eternal fear in the face of the unknown, which we all carry within us.”

Sara Lewis Holmes: “I can't quite leap into the cold depths first thing in the morning, so I warm up with coffee, and a bit of reading. Then I deploy my water wings: cheap spiral notebooks that always, always seem friendly and invite me to wade in. I have for years allowed myself to write whatever and however and whenever I wanted to in plain, no-rules-at-all notebooks, and now they're a source of material, a record of my writing life, and a habit that allows me to start when I'm frozen.”

Lauren Tarshis: “I believe that there is no such thing as a wasted writing day. Each day is a learning experience. I have learned by doing. I hope to keep improving, and I won't improve if I don't sit down and write as often as I can. The only way to overcome obstacles is to write through them. Sometimes days feel wasted, but when I look back, I realize that those "wasted" days were necessary. Without them, I would not have gotten from point a to point b (via points d, f, x, and z).”

Douglas Florian: “Time can be my best friend. I can spend a whole day searching in vain for a solution then come back to it later with an instant obvious solution. That's the way the mind works. You have to break a pattern of thinking, and, perhaps, distance from the problem helps. Keeping a very open mind works wonders and being receptive helps.”

Laura Purdie Salas: “What keeps me going during those spells is making the effort to keep at least one pinky toe in the water. For the poetry collection I wish I had time to work on, for instance, I've been trying to revise one or two poems a week for the past six weeks. The revisions may be total trash. I don't know because I don't have enough energy and focus to see them clearly. But even just that tiny effort helps me feel connected to the project overall. That way, when I do have time to return to it in a more meaningful way, I'll be able to jump right back in without having to get used to the water all over again.”

David A. Adler: “Writing is like swimming! The only way to get into the water is to jump in. Don't over think the process. Just jump in and write.”

Judy O’Malley: “Both swimmers and writers need training, discipline, and perseverance in order to achieve their personal best in their respective fields. For swimmers, that may mean breaking a record or winning an event. For writers, it is finding their story, their voice, the inner truth they need to express through writing.”

Melanie Hope Greenberg: “ I need an anchor in order to stay afloat. One anchor is having a strategy. I use a "map" or a 32-page thumbnail grid. Then I can envision the overall sequential form of the book I’m creating. Once I see it, the words flow. Research is another anchor. While researching Coney Island's history, I kept extensive notes which kept feeding me more ideas.”

Penny Blubaugh: “I want to see how things work. I’m not an outliner. I start with a premise and try to work toward a perceived end, but I never know how I’m going to get from A to Z. Sometimes when I read things back I think, “Wow. That’s really interesting the way that worked out.” It’s almost a “Did I write that?” moment. This seems to work the same for long and short pieces.”

Haruki Murakami: “As I write, I arrange my thoughts. And rewriting and revising takes my thinking down even deeper paths. No matter how much I write, though, I never reach a conclusion. And no matter how much I rewrite, I never reach the destination. Even after decades of writing, the same still holds true.”

Sherri L. Smith:”If the water’s cold, the best thing to do is just jump right in. I admit I’ll dip my toes first with a little journaling. Three pages of free writing tends to warm me up. When I sit down to work on a project, I’ve usually worked out the kinks in my journal and I’m ready to go the distance.”

David Chotjewitz: “I have only a few convictions about writing. One of them is not to write if it doesn't come by itself. So I would rather do a million things than write if it's not coming...”

Sarah Beth Durst: “I also work off an outline so that I can divide up the work into manageable chunks. It's much easier to start writing if you tell yourself that you only need to write one scene or even one paragraph. Kind of like telling yourself that you only need to dip your feet into the water at first. Later, you can convince yourself to walk in up to your knees. And then up to your stomach and then your neck until you're swimming along just fine.”

George Orwell: “A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have en effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?”

R.A. Riekki: “How do I overcome obstacles? I find this question interesting because your job as a fiction writer is to create obstacles for your characters. So the question is sort of: how do you overcome obstacles in creating obstacles? My response is that, for the writer, there aren't really any obstacles. It's writing. It's your story. You control it.”

And, last, in memory of Norma Fox Mazer--a Beacon of Light for so many writers--who passed away earlier this year:

Norma Fox Mazer: “I don't have dry spells. I learned long ago that only fear would stop me. For instance, fear of the dry spell, fear of the work, fear of not being able to do it, not being up to it, not being good enough, and so on. And while I have all these fears to some degree still after so many years of writing (especially the fear of not being a good enough writer), I know that they are only fears. I know that they disappear when I begin work. I know that the key to writing is to write... and that everything can be revised (thank the goddess!) ...and revised and revised and revised. Revision is transformation. My ugly frog of a piece of writing can be transformed into the beautiful--ok, good looking--prince, if I keep at it long enough.”

For more tributes to Norma Fox Mazer, visit Vermont College of Fine Art's online journal, Hunger Mountain:

If you’d like to read more interviews that have appeared on Wordswimmer, visit:


Kelly Fineman said...

Lovely collection of quotes, Bruce. Thanks for this!

laurasalas said...

Finally had a chance to drop by and read these funny and inspirational words. Thanks, Bruce!

My favorites are Lauren Tarshis, Sarah Beth Durst, and Norma Fox Mazer. All of them have clearly looked in my head and seen my own fears and shortcomings and figured out how to solve them. Thanks for the reassurance!