“The End” is my beginning

A couple of weeks ago, a few days before family arrived from out of town, I typed “The End” to a book manuscript I’ve been working on for 16 months. That’s a little long for me. Usually I finish a manuscript in just under a year. But I also started a business in 2012 so admittedly I was busier than normal.

A few days later I printed out the rough draft and stacked it on my working table (mostly because my desk was, and still is, covered with things that need to be scanned/filed/shredded, which is why I have a “working table” in the first place but that’s another post) and that is where the draft remains, not because I dread the first edit, but because I don’t.

I enjoy the first edit more than writing the original draft. Why? Because once the first draft is done, I have something tangible to work with. It’s no longer an idea, a dream, a possibility. It’s there. It exists. I don’t see a rough draft as a completed project. I see it as a foundation, a structure, a base for what I’m about to build.

Contrary to the stereotypical writer, I don’t become terribly attached to anything in my first draft. I don’t have to wrestle with the necessity to “kill my darlings.” The words that make up my first draft are just words. They can be rearranged, exchanged, hauled off to another section, or discarded altogether. That’s all fine with me as long as when I am finished I have created what I imagined before I typed “chapter one.”

Words are only one of the ingredients of that creation, just as sand is only one of the ingredients of a beach. By itself, it’s just sand. But sculpted by water and wind, creatures on top of and beneath it, and the hands and tools of people, the sand becomes anything from castles, to turtle nests, to dunes. As a writer I am the sea and the air, the life above and below the surface, combining and recombining words to create the landscape of my story.

It’s during the first edit that I do begin to resemble some of that writer stereotype. I become a bit obsessed. I become so focused on the book, the book, the book, that I put off everything else, things like chores and social opportunities, or any other use of my free time, sometimes even those daily walks on the beach. Clearly my priorities get out of whack.

Knowing my tendency to develop tunnel vision during the first revision, I’ve left my manuscript undisturbed so that I could cross some important items (like hosting a family visit, completing first quarter business administrative duties, and uploading a few website changes) off my task list. With that done, I can safely devote my attention to that stack of paper on my working table. But first, just in case I get lost in my work, I think I’ll take a walk.

Dolphin Plaza entrance to Hanna Beach, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, Jacksonville, FL

Dolphin Plaza entrance to Hanna Beach, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, Jacksonville, FL

A Visitor’s Perspective

Family visited us last week for the first time since we relocated to Jax from the landlocked Midwest. We took our hosting duties seriously and packed as many local sights and sounds into the five days we had together, and of course, we started with the beach.

The beach, in our case, is a series of beaches along the coast that together form about six miles of walking, biking, surfing, sun worshipping and beach combing bliss. Those miles are divided into four distinct beaches, named for the communities they border. There aren’t any lines in the sand separating one from the other, but each has its own feel and we’ve already developed favorites. On their first full day visiting, my in-laws walked with us on the two strips of sand where my husband and I spend most of our beach time, a southern stretch of Jax Beach and the beach at Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.

Seeing our familiar sights through their visiting eyes was an unexpected treat. They pointed out and admired features that feel like home to us. Their visiting perspective provided a fresh view of what has quickly become our common everyday surroundings.

A visitor’s perspective is exactly what is needed for editing the first rough draft of any writing project. The best revisions are born of a wide-eyed reading conducted as if those words you wrestled onto the page are telling you something you’ve never heard before. Without that visitor’s perspective, you won’t know which words to cut, or what to add. Whether you’re a new writer, or someone who has produced and published for many years, you must develop the ability to approach your completed writing as if it’s a change of scenery after a long drive.

Sunset, April 1, 2013, Hanna Beach, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.

Sunset, April 1, 2013, Hanna Beach, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park.

Springing Forward

Lonesome guard tower on south Jax Beach

Lonesome guard tower on south Jax Beach

I get grumpy about the annual switch to Daylight Savings Time. Every spring we change the clocks and the daylight that has been increasing each morning since the Winter Solstice suddenly disappears again, moved instead to the end of the day. It feels like just as we were making progress toward those long summer days that begin early and stay late, somebody hit rewind and we have to replay the last month.

The upside, of course, is that our evenings have suddenly expanded, jumping ahead of the trend that Mother Nature was already setting, providing extra daylight for those evening beach walks I’ve been missing since the days got short last fall. You might think that would counter my grumpiness at losing an hour last weekend. But no. I will remain grumpy about that for at least a week, as a matter of principle.

What does counter grumpiness, and just about anything else I ever need countered, is a walk along one of our local beaches or the sudden arrival of Spring weather. Yesterday featured both!

As late as last Friday the beach looked and felt rather winter-like, or at least Northern Florida winter-like. Last Friday offered an abundance of sunshine and blue sky, but highs were struggling to find the 60s, hampered by a fierce wind out of the north. Still, as my feet reached the sand I saw a hint that Spring was imminent. Those familiar, red-orange lifeguard towers were back on Jax Beach. Uninhabited towers kept watch over a largely empty surf and barren beach, but the fact that they were out of storage promised change.

Two days later those towers contained lifeguards, the waves entertained surfers, and the sand soothed families and couples eager to soak in the sun without needing a jacket. Goodbye, grumpiness. Hello, Spring!

If Spring hasn’t reached your particular shore, here’s a peek at ours to tide you over.

Springing forward at Jax Beach

Springing forward at Jax Beach

Skimming Creativity

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Over the last year and a half, I’ve learned how to walk along the beach without disturbing the gulls that gather in bunches up and down the coast. At first they flew whenever I got near them, but after awhile I discovered that if I approach quietly at a steady pace, and avoid making eye contact, most of the gulls (Ring Billed, Common, Laughing, or Herring) tend to walk toward or away from the water just enough to clear a path for me through the middle of the flock.

They might complain. The Laughing Gulls almost always do! But only the most skittish gulls take flight, frequently joined by the terns, and they usually fly only a few feet before dropping back down into the sand as I pass them by.

Black Skimmers are a different story. They visit our beach only a few months each winter and they fly as soon as I get anywhere near them, permitting me to accumulate numerous blurry photos that feature their tail feathers.

Last Friday as I walked north along the shore I repeatedly approached a flock of Black Skimmers. Before that day, I hadn’t seen more than four or five together, but this time over two dozen were gathered at the water’s edge. When I came within 10 feet of them they took flight as a group, first out over the water and then arcing back to the sand a little farther up the shore. When I caught up to them again, they took flight once more out over the surf and back to the sand a little farther ahead. This pattern was repeated a couple more times until the Black Skimmers dropped back into the sand with a similar size group of Sanderlings and a handful of Laughing Gulls.

As I approached this mixed flock, the Laughing Gulls squawked a bit and sidestepped into the water, the Sanderlings chattered and trotted farther inland, and the Black Skimmers once again took flight all together but this time they flew the opposite direction. Once out over the surf, the Skimmers turned south and flew behind me. For a moment I thought they’d figured out that I wouldn’t disturb them any more if they let me get past them and then dropped back down with the gulls and the Sanderlings.

But that wasn’t their plan. Instead they circled behind me on the right, flew up alongside me on the left, and then on up ahead, landing beside the water once more about 20 yards in front of me. We resumed our previous pattern with the Skimmers flying on down the coast each time I approached and remaining just out of reach, until I arrived at the walkover where my car was parked and left the beach. As I got into the car and headed home I wondered how many times we would need to do that same dance before the Skimmers got used to me like the gulls and terns have, and simply moved off to one side, complaining, as I passed by.

Creativity frequently eludes me much like those Black Skimmers. I’ll catch a glimpse of a new idea, a fresh connection, but as I approach it takes flight, wheeling out over the ocean of thoughts in my head, and sometimes circling back around me before landing just out of reach. I have to be careful not to make any sudden moves, loud noises, or eye contact, until the new idea and I have had a chance to feel each other out a bit, grow accustomed to each other, and convince ourselves that neither poses a threat. Only then can I get a good look, and maybe even snap a photo or two.

Have to Laugh

Did Laughing Gulls get their name from the sound of their calls? Or do they get their name from the fact that it’s hard not to laugh when we hear them?

Laughing Gulls, Hanna Beach

Laughing Gulls, Hanna Beach

I’ve cleared my business schedule this week so that I can focus on a self-imposed writing retreat, right here at home. The rules are no business-related writing. No conference calls or meetings. No client deadlines and no sales activities. Instead, I am spending the entire week focusing on a personal writing project, in hopes of pounding out a significant word count and bringing the end of this manuscript in sight.

To kick off my writing week properly, I spent an unusually warm Monday afternoon at Hanna Beach. As I walked I was already running phrases and paragraphs in my head, writing before the writing, which is a common practice for me. I had a good pace going and noticed that I was approaching a flock of gulls but didn’t pay much attention to what kinds had gathered. Instead I was watching a handful of pelicans diving repeatedly just offshore, when suddenly I found myself smiling and then laughing out loud.

The flock I had caught up with was mostly Laughing Gulls and they were separating left and right to create a path for me to walk through them. They were also complaining about it. Just as I made eye contact with one gull, he (she? it?) threw back his head and called Ha Ha Ha so loudly that the gulls near him stepped a little farther aside.

I had to laugh. I always have to laugh when I hear them calling.

Spring is coming and when it does, a group of Laughing Gulls will gather here at the apartment complex where we live and squabble with the crows about who gets to perch on top of the community center building and proclaim themselves King of the Complex. Each morning, with the sunrise, the squabbling will begin and I’ll wake up to the Ha Ha Ha of the Laughing Gulls. After experiencing that last spring, I know there will be many mornings when I’ll have to laugh with them, and isn’t that a great way to start the day?

Three generations of coastal interaction

Jax Beach winter days separate the tourists from the locals. Tourists enter the water without a wet suit. Locals do not.

IMG_7047On a warm winter day a couple of weeks ago, when the temps were high enough that the locals were only wearing light jackets during their beach visits, I watched an older man, his son, and his grandsons near the surf. The grandfather was a local, dressed in jeans, jacket, and hat, and wearing shoes. He stood a few feet back from where the water met the sand, smiling as he watched the others.

The son, barefoot with long shorts and a shirt but no jacket, was standing ankle-deep. He appeared to be straddling the line between comfortable and pained, looking back at the grandfather occasionally but mostly keeping his gaze focused on his sons.

The grandsons were nearly waist deep in the surf, jumping each time a wave crashed into them, apparently unfazed by the temperature of the water or the air. They were wearing jeans/shorts and t-shirts, all quite wet.

Having lived here a little over a year now I instantly knew–grandpa was a local, and son and grandsons were…

“Tourists,” my husband said, shaking his head and smiling. As we left the beach, grandpa, son, and grandsons, remained three generations of coastal interaction, from all in to just getting feet wet to opting for observation from dry land.

In this regard the coast has an awful lot in common with creativity, art, and writing. Some watch and enjoy the view, some dabble in the shallows along the edge, and some dive right in. Each has their place and purpose.

Which are you?

Bird Party

IMG_7017One of my favorite books when I was a little girl was Go, Dog. Go! I didn’t care about the girl dog with many hats constantly seeking approval or the fact that the dogs drove cars. What I loved about the book was the dog party, the idea that all kinds of dogs gathered together at the end to have a good time.

Walking along southern Jax Beach this past weekend I saw what I’m pretty sure was a bird party.

Several kinds of gulls and terns, skimmers, and sanderlings often congregate together in large mixed flocks on winter days, when the beach isn’t heavily populated with people. Saturday’s above average warmth and abundant sunshine brought out a few extra bodies, but not enough to deter the birds and several flocks dotted the coastline, right where the water met the sand. But they were only half of the party.

The real action was happening just offshore, taking advantage of a calm surf. More than a dozen pelicans were taking turns circling above, diving into the sea, bobbing about for a bit  on the surface, and then taking off to restart the sequence. This is a common occurrence, of course, but on that day, the pelicans were diving and bobbing with large flocks of gulls and other birds, some diving occasionally as well but mostly floating in big groups that mirrored the ones on shore. In the sand and in the surf there was a lot of chatter, and the skies between were criss crossed with feathered friends winging from group to group, squawking their hellos and goodbyes or maybe spreading gossip. Whatever they were communicating it was evident that all those different kinds of birds gathered together in the sand, sea, and sky were having a good time.

Go, birds. Go!

The best day

About a week ago we had a string of days with unseasonably warm temperatures in the upper 70s and hovering at 80 which transformed our usually sparsely populated winter beach back into a spring beach, covered with bikini-clad college students and families with young kids.

That all changed last Thursday afternoon, as a front passed through dropping temps back into their normal winter range. But before the front arrived, we had one last May-like morning to walk along Jax Beach, which was dotted with a fair number of sunbathers and families, walkers, joggers, and fishermen all enjoying the last bit of extra warmth before winter weather returned.

IMG_6885As I followed the shoreline south, I noticed a young family ahead of me. The mother and father were talking and taking pictures of their young daughter who was running into the surf, squealing when the cool water crashed into her, running back toward her parents giggling, and then turning around and repeating the entire sequence over again.

She was on her fourth or fifth cycle when I came even with them, and just as I passed a wave crashed into the little girl, who appeared to be about four or five. Instead of squealing and running back, this time she turned around to face her parents, raised both arms in a “ta da” pose, and shrieked “This is the best day of my life!”

When I met back up with my husband toward the end of my walk, I told him about the little girl. Later that day I repeated the story to our adult son and daughter and posted it on my personal Facebook page, sharing it with as many friends and family as possible. And now I’m sharing it with you here, not only because it relates a delightful moment of one little girl’s joy, but because of what witnessing it has revealed to me.

My first thought upon hearing her proclamation was to be grateful that I get to walk on the beach almost every day. My second thought was to hope that at her age she was merely experiencing the best day she’d had so far, and that she would have many more to come as she made her way through her life. But then I came to what has stuck with me since that moment, the question of what makes any particular day a best day.

Best days, like beauty, are ultimately in the eye of the beholder, or the heart of the experiencer maybe. For me, the best days of my life don’t depend on temperature or latitude, although warm sunny beach days certainly don’t hurt. My best days are the ones I share at least part of with friends, family and loved ones, and, as most of those people know, the days I spend writing. Creating something seemingly from nothing, but of course built on inspiration and experience, whether it’s a few words or dozens of pages, makes a day great in my book.

What makes a day great for you?

Out there somewhere?

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 Are you out there Mary Lee?

Cue the Jaws theme music…

Local news has been excitedly giving shark play by play for the past week. Two female great white sharks tagged by Ocearch near Cape Cod last September have been pinging just east of Jacksonville. The smaller shark, 14 ft long Genie, has stayed well off shore, passing her time along the Gulf Stream. But the big girl, Mary Lee, who is 16 feet long and weighs more than 3000 pounds, has been hanging out much closer to shore, actually pinging within the surf late in the day on January 7th. That’s when Ocearch notified local police and Mary Lee became the topic of conversation around town, almost as if she were the first shark ever to visit our shore.

That’s also when I became addicted to the Ocearch tracking website. Imagine how thrilled I was to discover that when Mary Lee pinged closest, she was just off shore from where I typically access Jax Beach! If only I’d been walking then I might have seen…well nothing actually, because it was dark when she was that close.

I’ve seen a lot of interesting things in the water as I’ve walked the beaches here over the past year. I’ve seen dozens of dolphins, feeding and playing in the surf, and scaring uninformed people who can’t tell the difference between a dolphin fin and a shark fin. I’ve seen what must have been a good sized sea turtle but I was too far away and it was too dark to be sure. And one especially wonderful evening during high tide I watched a couple of manta rays feeding just a few feet away from where I and several other beach lovers were gathered at the water’s edge, oohing and ahhing and reassuring some idiots walking by that no, really, those were not sharks.

I know a lot of people have a strong fear of sharks, and I’m not interested in a close encounter with one myself, but they are not every unidentified swimming creature in the sea, or the only ones to avoid. Jellyfish, for example, can be very unpleasant, but there aren’t near as many movies about them and I don’t hear a lot of people pointing and yelling “jellyfish” when they see something in the water.

Sharks are clearly made out to be the bogeymen of the sea, but the sea is their natural habitat and they are doing what sharks were born to do–swim and eat. They are merely one more type of ocean and coastal life to observe, no different than the dolphins, sea turtles, pelicans, gulls and osprey.

There are plenty of sharks out there that we don’t see or hear about, many more than the two great whites that Ocearch recently named and tagged. Local surfers complain about a bull shark that frequents the area near and just south of the pier. We also have black tip sharks in these waters, but for the most part, this apparently isn’t a place where a lot of shark encounters occur. It may be a long time, and a lot of walks, before I get a glimpse of a shark in local waters.

That’s ok. I don’t mind waiting. They’re out there, somewhere, along with their untagged friends. The great thing about Mary Lee pinging near the Jax Beach shore is the reminder that just under the surface, just out of range of our everyday experience, is a world we cannot see without effort, risk, or technology.

Beneath those beautiful breakers there is a world of life that carries on without our observance or assistance. It is the same with creativity, be it any type of art, music, or creative writing. Behind those layers of paint, that sculpted curve in clay, that delicate note, and that well-turned phrase, is a combination of observation and imagination, born of the knowledge that things aren’t always as they seem, and the courage to explore and express what is found.

 

In with the new

Well it’s started. The great redesign project is underway here at thebeachwriter.com. We have a new front porch to welcome guests and provide directions to a couple of new destination pages…one for blog posts and another with a brief summary of, and contact information for, Janda Writing and Consulting. The foundation is complete. Now the much longer and slower phase of building can begin. That is going to stretch out over the coming months so, if you’re curious, you might want to stop by every so often and have a look around. I’ll post blog entries noting significant additions along the way but in between those there will be plenty of little tweaks and add ons.

For those of you who like hints and spoilers, in the coming year I’ll be adding business details, along with articles, guides, and webinars that provide more in-depth and detailed information on a variety of writing topics. My goal is to get this information out of my head and off of notes (both handwritten and electronic) and into a format that will benefit others. Personally, I’m hoping that clearing out some of the information I keep in my brain will free up storage space for other, non-writing but terribly important information, like what I am supposed to buy at the grocery store, or the names of people I’ve just met, or anything involving numbers.

For those of you who visit for my beach pics, rest assured there’ll be plenty for you to enjoy in the upcoming months as well. I have plans for a gallery or two, as well as continued posts and pics of what I see and think and feel when my feet are in the sand. In fact, as I continue to make adjustments to the layout of various pages, I’ll be adding more pics from my local beaches, especially Jax, Atlantic, Neptune, and Hanna Beaches. To kick the year off right, here’s one of Jax Beach taken January 1st.

Jax Beach, sunset, January 1, 2013

Jax Beach, sunset, January 1, 2013

I’d love your input. Please let me know what you think of the changes as they happen, and feel free to suggest topics you like to see discussed in the future, either by commenting below or contacting me directly.