Sunday, August 30, 2020

Riptides and Tidepools

If you think about writing as a flow—a flow of words, a flow of thoughts and images, a flow of consecutive days that you can sit down and write—you begin to notice differences in the rate of flow, the speed that writing takes place on some days, the slowness on others.

There are moments when it can feel like the flow of your writing is as strong as a riptide, and you find yourself caught by the current, unable to escape, forced to go where the flow is taking you.

These riptide moments are exciting, like unexpected gifts taking you to places you might never have found if you hadn’t let yourself go with the current, let the words take you where you needed to go. 

There’s no time for gazing at the waves curling into shore or watching clouds floating overhead, no time for searching for shells on the beach or for digging sandcastles. 

There’s only the riptide current and the constant effort of trying to keep your head above water as the words rush over your head and past you, and your pen is trying to keep up with the flow, trying to catch the words and thoughts and images as they speed by.

But then there are moments when everything seems to come to a halt, when the words seem to stall and get stuck somewhere, and the flow—that current that was so full of energy and life which took you so quickly into a different world—all but stops.

What do you do then?

Those are what I like to call the tidepool moments. 

Years ago, when we spent part of our summer vacation in Maine, we rented a cabin on the rocky coastline north of Bar Harbor. 

Every morning, after the sea retreated, my wife, daughter, and I would go down to the shore and explore tidepools glistening in the morning light.

Each tidepool was filled with gifts from the sea—starfish and crabs, sea anemones, shells, sand dollars, and more.

In tidepool moments, instead of worrying about where the current is taking you, you can slow down, inspect the water, play with words as if the words themselves are gifts from the sea.

You can walk along the edge of the tidepool, watch the sunlight glistening on the surface of the pools, enjoy the tickle of icy sea water on your toes, and discover what’s been hiding beneath the surface of the sea because it’s now accessible and waiting for you.

In a tidepool moment, the flow of writing is calmer, more introspective, more self-aware, and more conscious of everything around you, unlike writing in a riptide moment, which can be frantic and filled with fear of the unknown. 

Each moment, whether a tidepool moment or a riptide moment, offers us another way of writing, of experiencing the flow of writing, of exploring the world. 

We can’t predict which kind of moment we’ll find waiting for us when we sit down at our desks each morning. 

Riptide or tidepool? 

Let’s head down to the shore to find out.

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