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Thoughts on Writing and Surfing: Facing the Great Unknown

You have a vision, a story, a project in mind you want to write. It tantalizes inside your brain. The only way to test it is by writing. Let’s say you want to surf. You stand on the beach and watch the ocean as waves, big and menacing, or small, or promising in shape, crash toward you. You on the sand, the waves out there. In each case you don’t know what will happen.

And anything could happen, good or bad.

Want to catch some waves? Want to pen that crazy yet promising novel? You must move into the turgid waters. You must focus your mind and face the blank page.

And there lies a hesitation. The great unknown.

Page 5 isn’t so hard, but can you make it past 150? Shuffling through the knee deep splash zone is no big deal. You got that. It’s the peeling 3 and 4 footers raising and smacking in the break area. And once you’re paddling and committed, a row of angry 6 footers might pop up on the horizon.

One reason I love National Novel Writing Month, is that it’s about Doing It. You will write it in November! It is the month!

To get past the hesitation on the beach syndrome, do these three things.

1) Have a Plan.

You might be hesitating because your subconscious brain wants you to nail down specifics: like the beginning, middle and end of your story. Before you write it, you have to know what it is. You must be able to explain it to yourself. What is this character’s inner journey? What event triggers the story? What middle plot point am I driving toward? Push yourself, and your brain will figure these things out. The more planning and defining you do upfront, the less tangents will distract, the less drafts you have to write, and the more solid your final story. Every fiction writer should read Robert McKee’s Story, because it’s the best technical explanation of storytelling that exists.

Standing on the beach, you say to yourself: ok, I’m paddling out through this channel, popping over the little foamy waves, then pulling steadily to get to the “outside” of the breakers. That’s how I’ll get from point A to point B. Then I’ll sit on my board, gentling rocking on the swell, and reassess.

2) Be open to changing your plan.


So maybe you start writing, but it’s slow going. Something isn’t right. You get 5,200 words into Chapter 1 and your heroine suddenly has time travel capability…but, it links up with this other strong notion, and you know THAT’s the real story, the more clearly defined story. Go with that.

Or maybe after thoroughly exhausting yourself paddling to avoid several crashing 3 footers, an unexpected 5 footer crops up out of nowhere and swipes you off your board, pushing you down and dragging you along the sandy bottom (each square foot of water weighs 60 pounds.) You realize it’s time to take it into shore. This idea didn’t work out.

It’s fine. You learned stuff. You’ll get it next time.

  1. Enjoy it.

What will propel you to complete the project? What will make you sit your ass in the chair, before the color monitor, to work day after assiduous day, scene after vividly described scene, of complex characters in conflict with one another?

You will want to do it if you make it fun. Make your daily involvement with the writing a playful thing. Take pleasure in the small, in a great sentence or an action which is revealing of a character. Play some music. Let it rip.

Catching waves is great, but most of surfing is paddling. It’s hard work. But paddling can be sublime and satisfying. In the wave break zone, when you paddle hard toward and over a wave as it peaks — but before it has broken — the front half of the board pops upward as the wave bucks it skyward. Then you slap down on the other side. It’s kind of cool.

For your sake, be kind to yourself! It’s a first draft and therefore imperfect. Let it flow. Remember what Picasso said: every work of creation at some point can be said to be horrible, but only because of its incompleteness. So relax. Press on. You will perfect the story and make it beautiful.

So get in there. The ocean is calling you.


By robbskidmore

Robb Skidmore writes upmarket literary fiction. He is the author of “The Pursuit of Cool”, a critically acclaimed coming-of-age novel about love, music, and the 80s, and the novella “The Surfer.” His short stories have appeared in many publications.

One reply on “Thoughts on Writing and Surfing: Facing the Great Unknown”

It is a scary thing, surfing and writing. One has to be ready with body and soul. Hesitation is the killer. The right wave will appear and the right thought is just waiting to be jotted down and then the ride is on. Surf’s up!

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