Thursday, December 16, 2010

Beacons of Light - 2010

It’s that time of year again.

The beach chairs are folded away under tarps.

The lifeguard towers sit empty overlooking the gray December sea.

And the shoreline stretches bleakly to the horizon, a few people bundled against the cold as they walk into the wind catching glimpses of one or two swimmers who refuse to leave the water.

This is the week that I climb out of the water for just a while to warm up and catch my breath, and to regain my strength and energy so that I can dive back into the water next year and resume swimming.

It’s never easy to pull away from the sound of the surf, the scent of the sea, or the luminous horizon line that beckons in the distance.

But I’ve learned that rest is essential at this time of year. I need to put aside paper and pen for a few weeks and simply daydream and read and stare out over the winter landscape, occasionally wondering about what’s happening beneath the water’s surface.

Before leaving the water, though, I want to thank the many writers who were kind enough to take time away from their own projects this past year to share thoughts on writing with wordswimmer’s readers.

They are our beacons of light.

They stand like lighthouses along the rocky coast and warn us away from shoals and dangerous currents. Their light helps us make our way, and their voices in our ears encourage us to lift our arms and take another stroke, urge us to keep kicking toward whatever goal we may have set our sights on.

So, thanks to everyone who joined me in the water this past year and helped keep me and other swimmers afloat.

I’m looking forward to swimming with you in the year to come.

Until then, I hope you’ll enjoy these brief excerpts from wordswimmer's beacons of light.

Kyoko Mori: “... the best passages came to me either as a complete surprise–whole sentences effortlessly appearing in the back of my mind–or else they were the result of so many agonized revisions that, later, I couldn’t bear to recall how I’d arrived at the final version. Either way, the not-knowing was the price I had to pay to write the few sentences among many that gave me the most pleasure.”

Phyllis Root: “When all else fails, I go back to the beginning, to writing for an audience of one and no one else. To putting words on paper, no matter how silly or shallow, because that is what I have always wanted to do. I go back to practicing writing, and isn’t all writing really just practice?”

Christina Farley: “My motto is dive right in. In order to make this work, I prepare for my swim in advance. I daydream about sharks, outline my swim route, and even create a play-list for my backstrokes. If I have everything set up, there's no excuses.”

Andrea Mack: “I try to write every day, but sometimes I just don’t get there. Part of it is procrastination, part of it is that my life is just plain busy. If I’ve decided to work on my novel, I usually open up a specific journal I have just for the novel and write about what needs to come next. That frees me to jump back in.”

Kate Fall: “I'm a social person and writing is solitary. My writing buddies keep me going by letting me talk through my plot problems and rejection discouragements. And I get a real lift from celebrating their successes.”

David L. Harrison: “Usually, the last thing I do as I drift off at night is decide how I will start the next morning. When the alarm goes off at 6:00, I’m ready for coffee and a quick look at overnight incoming e-mails and blog comments. By the second cup I’m generally into my day. Instead of splashing around wondering which way to swim, I enjoy the sense of purpose and direction that come with a little pre-planning.”

Carmelo A. Martino: “For me, an important question during character development is “How does my character feel about her name?” There is a difference between a character named Anastasia who loves her name and one who insists on being called Stacy or Ana.”

Marilynne Robinson: “I began to realize that if I gave my mind time it would discover things. It knew things that I would never anticipate it knowing and so there was this whole rising out of the sea of this remembered landscape, which was a strange experience in itself because it was a discovery of mind about my mind that I would never have otherwise made.”

Johanna Hurwitz: “Occasionally I get bogged down. I don't know what to write next. In those instances, here's a trick I learned: I write backwards starting with the last chapter. Then I write the chapter that would come before it. And in this way I "meet" my story in the middle.”

John McPhee: “The fundamental thing is that writing teaches writing.”

Caroline Leavitt: “When I first start a novel, it’s always filled with false starts, way too much back-story (do we really need to know the character’s life as a baby?) and characters who wander in from another novel I haven’t written yet. I don’t know if there’s an easier way to do this, but this seems to be my process.”

Ray Bradbury: “My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.”

Susan Woodring: “In our workshop at Tin House, Ann Hood spoke of an important guideline in story-telling: if a story opens on Christmas, someone better die by the end of the story.”

Marion Dane Bauer: “When I can't write, I read. I read and read and read until suddenly I can't read another word, and at that moment I'm propelled back to my own work. When I'm reading I'm always looking for something that is so good, so far beyond my reach that it honors everything I'm trying to accomplish in my own writing, and that energizes me to return to this wonderful effort myself . . . once more.”

Francis Flaherty: “Go find the stuff you love to death. When you find it, many wondrous things will happen.”

Kathi Appelt: “I’m kind of like a tortoise. A page a day, a tiny bit of progress here and there, it all keeps me going. I may not be as prolific as the hare, but if I keep at it, I’ll eventually get there. And let’s face it, turtles are far better swimmers than rabbits.”

Augusta Scattergood: “Mrs. Glassco was a fierce defender of strong verbs and of choosing just the right word. She disdained weak writing: ‘Wonderful?’ she’d shout, waving a classmate’s essay in the air. ‘Why write the word wonderful? Wonderful is not specific. That wastebasket is wonderful, the chalk board! Wonderful tells me nothing!’”

Tim Wynne-Jones: I try to remember that I don't have to write the whole book today. I have to write this scene -- this chapter. That's all.”

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

1 comment:

Carmela Martino said...

So many great quotes--thanks so much for rounding them up for us, Bruce. Enjoy your time off.