At this time of year we emerge from the water grateful to the many writers, family members, and friends who supported our efforts to keep swimming month after month and who encouraged us to keep putting words on paper.
It's a challenge to keep swimming, to make our way safely past waves and shoals, kicking against stiff currents and past rocky shorelines, into the deep water of our imagination. But thanks to the generosity of so many writers who have plunged into the deep and kindly shared their discoveries with us, we can find our way with the help of these Beacons of Light.
This is the time of year when darkness falls early, nights grow longer, and the water turns icy cold. Some of us take breaks from swimming and hibernate. Others–the polar bears among us–keep plunging into the waves and continue swimming through the wintry months. Wherever you find yourself at this time of year--in the water or on dry land--I hope you know that your support has meant a lot as I waded into the water every week wondering where my pen might take me. I hope that you’ve found support here over the past year, too.
In this post--the last of the year--I'm continuing wordswimmer's annual tradition of collecting excerpts from the Beacons of Light who shined so brightly for us in the past year. Many thanks to all for your generosity and willingness to shine out and help other writers get into the water.
Han Nolan: “Dry spells or writer's block, I find, come from a focus on our ambitions rather than on just telling a story. The best way of getting over fear or the block is to just sit down and write--write anything, but write. Thinking about it doesn't count. Just do it!”http://wordswimmer.blogspot.com/2011/01/one-writers-process-han-nolan.html
Sarah Jamila Stevenson: Sometimes it's tough to get started—my own mind wants to sabotage me in a variety of ways. I'm too tired. The water's too cold. I can't think of any good ideas. My mind's not warmed up. I should be doing something else pressing from my to-do list. I'm able to get started when I can remind myself that those mental complaints are usually either illusory or ultimately unimportant compared to what I want to do, which is write.
Deborah Brodie: You don’t have to be an academic to be the beneficiary of a sabbatical, nor do you have to be religious to find a comfortable way to incorporate the underlying principle of Sabbath observance. Just pick one day out of seven or even part of one day not to write. No typing, no e-mail, not even any work-related reading.... By moving away from the intensity of constant work, even in a small way, you allow your unconscious to do its job, unencumbered by your intensity.
Michael J. Rosen: You get into the water, because there’s only water. As a writer, you live like fish (this is Virginia Woolf’s metaphor), utterly submerged in your environment, and, constantly taking in water through the gills…in order to breath.
Todd Strasser: While it sometimes feels like I'm swimming in circles, I find that if I keep stroking I almost always reach the far shore.
Anne Ylvisaker: Even as a tadpole in swimming lessons, I was one of those kids who dipped a toe into the water before getting in the pool, never the all-at-once cannonball. It is the same with writing. First I take pen and notebook and free-write several pages. I just empty whatever is in my head onto the paper. I write out my fears or hopes for the day’s work, get rid of distracting thoughts, experiment with ideas, or simply write out a poem I’ve memorized. It’s getting that physical sense of putting words on a page, much like doing laps in a pool. http://wordswimmer.blogspot.com/2011/05/one-writers-process-anne-ylvisaker.html
Nikki Grimes: Writing is always a lonely business. That's the nature of it. But if I've got writer's block, I know to read a certain group of authors whose work always triggers me. I know that an extra set of eyes is always helpful and so I have a few trusted readers I rely on to give me sound critique, as I feel the need for it. I also understand the value of distance. Sometimes, I have to put the work down for a time, then come back to it with the objectivity time and distance allow.
Tricia Springstubb: I love when an image or line comes to me out of nowhere. I love when I make myself laugh. And I especially love talking to someone who's read my work and says something that gives me pause, makes me understand that the work exists apart from me, that it now holds a place in her life, too. That always feels miraculous!
Leslea Newman: What keeps me afloat is curiosity. I never know what's going to happen next and I'm eager to find out. Also, once I have something on the page, I love love love to rewrite, and I will pester a piece until I'm satisfied. This can take hours, days, weeks, months, years.
Catherine Ryan Hyde: I have to love it, be intrigued by it. I have to want to know what happens next as much as (I hope) the reader will want to know. If this is not happening, I put it down. Put it away. If I don’t love it enough to keep writing it, why will the reader be drawn to keep reading it? I give myself permission to work on something else. Later I go back to the work and fix it, take it in a different direction, or pull out the one part worth saving. But I never force myself to work on something I no longer love.
Eric A. Kimmel: There's no difference between long and short. It's all in the story. The characters become real. They talk to you. You become part of their adventures. You find yourself wondering how they're going to get out of the predicaments they get into. You want to get to the end because when you start you don't really know how it will end. You're not writing the story. It's writing you.
Bobbi Miller: It takes great courage to keep writing (or to keep swimming). Mark Twain (he’s my guy) defined courage as mastery of fear, not the absence of fear. Every writer fears. But a few keep going, despite the fear. James Bell (The Art of War for Writers) offers: “A hero fights to make his writing worthy, even when no one’s noticing; a fool demands to be noticed all the time, even if his writing stinks. A hero gets knocked down and quietly regroups to write again; a fool gets knocked down and whines about it ever after. A hero keeps writing, no matter what, knowing effort is its own reward; a fool eventually quits and complains that the world is unfair.”
The lesson I am learning now is to let go of expectations (albeit, sometimes with a whine) and just enjoy the process. There’s no guarantee of any return on our time and investment when we write a story. So, be the hero, says Bell.
To read more end-of-year interviews with wordswimmer’s Beacons of Light, visit:
P.S. - wordswimmer will be taking a break from the water for the next few weeks. See you in 2012!