Sunday, September 06, 2015

How’s the Water?

The heat in Florida is unrelenting at the this time of year, pressing down over everything like a steamy blanket and making the air so thick and humid that it feels like you’re trapped inside a never-ending steam bath.

It’s not only the air that warms up but the water, too. Instead of water temperatures in the 60's or 70's, like off the mid-Atlantic coast at this time of year, the temperature of the water in the Gulf rises into the 80's. Some folks might think that’s s little too warm, but it’s the temperature that I wait for every year. As soon as the temperature reaches 85, I dive in. It’s perfect.

But here’s the thing: what’s perfect for me is not perfect for you.

So, when you’re writing, it can be helpful to ask yourself: how’s the water?

Perhaps you’re swimming farther than you ever swam before, and the water is colder than you’ve ever felt, and you’re wondering if you should keep going or turn back and borrow a friend's wetsuit.

Or perhaps you’re swimming in circles, stuck in the same cove that you’ve stepped into each day for the past month, and you don’t feel you’re going anywhere. Should you keep swimming? Or should you get out of the cove and find another place to swim?

I know some writers who switch from one cove or pool to another each day to stay fresh—writing poems one day, short stories another, and then returning to a novel-in-progress when neither the poems nor short stories seem to flow.

And I know other writers who remain steadfast and keep swimming, no matter how cold or hot the water, no matter how far they’ve already swum, no matter if the shore looks unfamiliar or if they’ve passed that point on the beach a few times before. They keep swimming.

Some days it’s helpful to step out of the water and spend the day on shore, just watching the waves and listening to the surf pound the beach and enjoying the sight of other swimmers doing laps in the areas just beyond the buoy markers.

Other days it’s helpful to acknowledge the temperature of the water, to become aware of whether you want to stay in even though it’s a challenge to keep swimming or if you want nothing more than to step out of the water and catch your breath and let your muscles rest.

Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer and the beginning of a new stage of the year when you’ll need your strength and energy to dive into your stories or poems and swim for as long as it takes to finish your work.

How do you find that energy and strength? Where does it come from? How can you preserve it so you can draw on its resources when you need it?

These questions are as much a part of the writing process as asking yourself when to use a comma or insert a parenthesis or substitute a different verb.

Being aware of how you feel in the water is crucial to being able to stay in the water.

So, ask yourself: how’s the water?

Depending on your response, you can decide how you want to plan your writing life this weekend and into the future. 

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