Out with the old

Reviewing, reflecting, analyzing and revising are familiar activities for writers and artists. Have we created what we intended? What changes could we make? Should we revise? And if so, what needs to be added or removed to transform what we’ve created into what we believe it can or should be?

Answering those questions may be easy or difficult, simple or complicated, but it’s always a personal, individual experience. Feedback from others is important, but unless we are writing or creating art for a particular client or customer, we make the final decision. Even so, we keep our audience in mind. What do our readers want? What do our customers and clients need?

Ideally, the finished product bridges the gap between what the writer/artist wants to give and want the reader/customer/client wants to receive.

As 2012 winds down I have been reviewing the past year of blogging as The Beach Writer. When I started, I wasn’t sure what I wanted the blog to be. I began writing and creating without a clear picture of what I wanted to produce. I spent most of the past year blogging in a fog as thick as the one blanketing Jax Beach a few weeks ago.

Gulls in fog

Jax Beach, December 8, 2012

I’m not saying I’m unhappy with what I’ve posted this past year. On the contrary, I’m pleased with my return to the realm of public writing after many years of keeping my words to myself. But each time I sat down to write a new entry, I was creating without a clear plan for how each entry would relate to the ones that came before or after, and that was ok for 2012. But for the new year I want to make some changes to align The Beach Writer blog with my longer term professional and personal writing goals.

Some of the changes I’ve planned will occur quickly. Others will build over time. First I’ll be redesigning this site to accommodate both The Beach Writer blog and my business, Janda Writing and Consulting. Those of you who’ve followed my writing and career over the years know that I’ve gone through periods when my personal and business writing lives have overlapped as well as times when they’ve been kept separate. That was ok when I was working for someone else, but it’s increasingly difficult when I answer only to myself and clients. Since there is only one of me, I believe my life will be simpler (although not necessarily easier) if I merge the two as much as possible.

What I won’t change is the blog itself. I’ll still post pictures, observations and opinions about the beach, writing, and the nature of creativity. All of you who stop by for a dose of that can rest assured that The Beach Writer will remain as is. But in addition to that, I’ll be providing more detailed information, tips, and advice for writers and clients.

I’m excited about these changes and I hope you will be too. I am looking forward to a bright 2013 filled with sun, sand, water, and words.

sun, sand, water

Sun, sand, water

Happy New Year!

…the more things stay the same

It’s a beautiful North Florida fall day with plenty of sunshine, highs in the upper 60s, and the threat (promise?) of lows in the upper 30s tonight. My local weather alert text this morning urged everyone to “bundle up.” If I had ventured out today, I would no doubt have seen people taking that advice, wearing actual coats of the sort that northerners (and former northerners) reserve for December-March weather in the upper Midwest.

As a transplant from up north marking my first full year down here, I put on a long-sleeved shirt, opened the windows, and turned off the air conditioner that has run continuously since March. To me, the weather is perfect for a day of digging my desk out from under a mound of paperwork and catching up on my To Do list.

Item #1 – write a blog post.

Sigh.

So much to write…so little time. Fall is anniversary season for me. September held the anniversary of our relocation to our new home here. October featured my wedding anniversary and the first anniversary of the founding of my consulting company. And November 15th will mark one year of The Beach Writer blog.

I’ve learned quite a bit about blogging this past 12 months. Mostly I’ve learned that I blog more often in winter than in summer, or at least that’s how it seems at first glance. More accurate, I think, is that I blog more often when I only have a couple of projects going simultaneously, and fairly infrequently when I have completely overextended myself. This has been the case for me throughout my entire writing and publishing life. As much as I think I would like to change that, I can recognize that it’s unlikely.

What is more likely is that I slow down every once in a while to figure out where I am, reflect on what I’ve accomplished and encountered, and plot a course for where I think I want to go (always subject to change, of course).

I combined one of those slow down and think sessions with a beach walk shortly after Labor Day and realized something wonderfully comforting and, I think, amazing, about the beach. After a year of observation, through all four seasons, Nor’easters, tropical storms, seaweed invasions, and a seemingly endless string of sunny days packed with people, I realized that I was looking at a shoreline essentially the same as when I first saw it.

How could that be?

I could understand how it would look basically the same following sand erosion during storms. The sand diminishes and shifts, sure, but the basic slope from an upper level near the dunes that led steadily but gently to the waves remained the same. But something happened at the start of the summer that significantly altered the landscape, the Great Seaweed Event of 2012.

Just before the solstice in June, right as beach attendance was ramping up, I arrived at the beach to walk and found it covered in seaweed. Blanketed in seaweed. Carpeted, actually. Overnight, the sea had coughed up a thick layer of smelly vegetation that spanned the width of the beach nearly from the dunes to low tide line and stretching north and south as far as I could see. Local news ran stories and aired interviews with beach visitors put off by the smell and the sight, and beach caretakers trying to explain that they couldn’t remove the seaweed and wouldn’t even be able to move it until it dried out some.

The Great Seaweed Event, Jax Beach, 6/20/2012

Walking was a little difficult that day, and for the better part of the next week, but what happened next was fascinating. As soon as it had arrived it was gone, buried beneath a fresh layer of sand, and in its place was a ridge of sand running parallel to the shore. For most of the summer that ridge held, creating a multi-level beach. From the dunes to the high tide line was the upper level, and from there to roughly the midline between high and low tides, was a new middle level shelf. Then a sharp drop occurred to the low tide level below.

Jax Beach, July 2012, with new mid level hump from seaweed dump

That’s how the beach remained June through August. But shortly after Labor Day, as I walked and thought about the culmination of our first year living here, I realized that things had changed. The ridge was gone and once more the beach was a steady and gradual slope from dunes to sea. In fact, it looked almost exactly like it did when I first saw it, before the storm erosion and the seaweed explosion made their subtractions and additions.

Time had smoothed out the extremes.

Doesn’t it always?

A lot has changed for me over the past year. I relocated to a new region of the country, with a new climate. I started a business. I began and have nearly finished a book and have another one waiting for its turn. I started this blog and posted regularly and semi-regularly as life allowed.

And yet for the most part, my landscape and the ebb and flow of my days remain the same. I walk, I write, and I work among the sun, sand, water and words.

The more things change, the more they truly do stay the same, at least for me.

Jax Beach, fall, 2012

Back to work

Well it’s been awhile, hasn’t it? More than a month, to be exact, since my last blog entry. Definitely a serious flouting of the rules of blogging!

And it was just what I needed.

I’ve had a very busy 2012, starting a business, trying to finish one manuscript and start another, blogging. Something had to give and so, toward the end of June, I decided to take a vacation from everything that I could and give myself a chance to recharge.

I couldn’t actually take a “real” vacation because I’m in the middle of long-term project with deadlines throughout this summer and fall. So for the past month I took a vacation from everything else. When I wasn’t working I did nothing at all. Nothing writing-wise that is. To be exact, I took a staycation, because I stayed right here at home, and even worked in my office, but just not on anything I wasn’t contractually obligated to create.

Obviously, I didn’t blog. But I also didn’t write a word on my nearly finished manuscript or the one I started at the end of May. No essays. No snippets. No notes. I journaled, but that’s it.

Typical vacation day, Jax Beach, FL

What did I do with my time instead? I read a lot. I walked the beach. I took a lot of photos. I spent extra time with family. I allowed my mind to wander wherever it wanted.

But most of all, I refused to feel guilty about not writing, which is a first for me.

The result has been fantastic. By focusing only on work  I was able to be extra productive in that area. By refusing to write anything else, I pushed all thoughts on other projects to the back of my mind where they were free to bounce around unattended and come up with new perspectives and combinations of their own.

That’s a wonderful thing, but as happens with all vacations or staycations, the time has come to get back to my regular writing life again.

Second pass changes

My beach walks consist of parking the car, crossing over the dunes and heading straight for the water, and then walking along the shore for a couple of miles, turning around, and walking back. I almost wrote “retracing my steps” instead of “walking back,” but that would have been inaccurate. My steps seem to disappear almost as quickly as I make them in the ever shifting sand.

Although I have been taking these walks nearly daily for more than half a year, I continue to be surprised by how much changes in the time it takes me to cover the same ground twice. Whether the tide is coming in or rolling out, whether the wind is blowing sand or not, whether the beach is crowded or nearly empty, change is constant along my route.

In those early walking days I often made the mistake of procrastinating. If I saw something interesting to take a photo of, or investigate, or maybe a shell to pick up, I would hesitate and tell myself I’d do that on the way back. But I quickly learned that putting it off usually meant losing the opportunity. Maybe whatever it was washed out to sea before I returned. Maybe someone else picked up that shell. Maybe a gull carried something shiny away. Whatever the case, waiting until my second pass meant missing the moment.

During a walk last week I started thinking how much this is and isn’t like the process of converting a first draft of a piece of writing into a second draft.

Sometimes a second draft is such a considerable change from the first rough attempt that it is nearly unrecognizable. Shiny things and beautiful landscape from the rough draft are discarded or at the very least altered enough so as to appear new. Sometimes a second draft nearly obliterates the first one, taking the raw material and rearranging it as severely as a gust of wind or strong wave rearrange sand and sweep baubles away.

The difference lies in who or what controls the change.

With the coast, nature is absolutely in charge. Wind, waves, and rain sculpt the sand and deposit goodies on the shore. Yes, humans are part of that nature, but I am not directly in charge of the creation at large. I’m just an observer.

When taking a second pass at a writing project, however, I am the creator. I decide what stays and what goes. I mold the raw materials into the shapes that I imagine. Even so, I sometimes find myself surprised by the differences of the second pass.

Of course there are exceptions. On this morning’s walk I noticed a shell with friends attached to it at the water’s edge. I was only about half a mile into my walk, just hitting my stride, and decided not to stop to take a picture. I told myself I’d snap a pic on the way back if the shell was still there. As I passed it a wave covered the shell and my feet and I figured the shell would be long gone when the water receded.

Thirty minutes later it was right where I left it, waves still lapping at it occasionally. The lighting was less than ideal and I didn’t take a great pic but here it is…

Similarly, when I opened the file for the rough draft of this post, I found it already said most of what I was thinking. I just needed to add an ending.

Today was one of those days when the second pass didn’t change that much after all.

Tern, tern, tern

Inspiration doesn’t always come easily, even when I stick to routine, write on schedule, and tempt my creativity with the sights and sounds that bring me ideas and the peace of mind to pursue them.

I can do all the right things, and still sit down at the keyboard only to find that I have nothing to say.

That’s not the case for me today, however. Today I have far too much to say, about too many topics. My thoughts are like this flock of terns at the beach this morning, each taking flight at the same time and not necessarily with the same destination in mind.

Royal Terns, Jax Beach, 5-14-12

I find this harder to deal with than what is traditionally known as writer’s block. I cannot, after all, write simultaneously on multiple projects at once, no matter how much my mind wishes to do so.

Or can I?

I used to think that was a no-no, that to be disciplined as a writer I had to force my brain to work on just one project at a time. When I had days like this I would refuse to add even a word or a note to anything but the work in progress at that time. This didn’t make me more productive. And worse yet, I seemed to forget those bursts of inspiration for other projects when the time came to work on them. Eventually I gave up on my one-at-time rule and focused instead on trying to keep up with ideas as I had them, even if that meant working on more than one thing at a time.

This is one of those days when I have files for multiple projects open, adding bits to one and editing pieces of another. I may not feel like I have accomplished much on any particular project by the end of the day, but at least I’ll have the comfort of knowing that I didn’t miss the chance to add any of the ideas I have flying through my head to their appropriate projects.

Here’s to creativity taking flight, and to holding on for the ride!

Tidal Pools of Creativity

Yesterday I was lucky enough to take my walk along the beach at my favorite time–about half way between high and low tide, with the tide going out. It’s my favorite time because of the tidal pools.

Jax Beach, 5-1-2012

What I like about tidal pools is that they are never exactly alike. Even pools that regularly form in about the same location vary in shape, depth, behavior, and duration depending on the sun, sand, water and wind.

What they trap varies as well. Some have beds of shiny shells. Some have rivers leading back to the receding sea. Some have walls so shallow that it seems the water isn’t trapped at all, but merely hanging out there by choice. Others have walls steep enough to make them an excellent makeshift kiddie pool for toddlers.

Lately the tidal pools at Jax Beach have been home to schools of tiny fish. Ranging from less than 1/2 an inch to almost an inch and a half long, these groups of fish trapped in the pools, or scurrying along those temporary streams between some of the pools and the sea, have broken up my walks with stop and point activities.

“There’s another batch!” I tell my husband as I point and stare.

This wrecks one purpose of my walk–to log exercise miles–but is perfect for the other reason I put my feet to the sand–creative inspiration. I love watching the worlds formed by each pool, with its unique characteristics and inhabitants seemingly unaware that I’ve already passed half a dozen such worlds in the last quarter mile of beach.

Each started with the same ingredients, but created something original. That’s what we artists do every day.

In a former life I published an ezine and one of its most popular features was a page of potential story titles or ideas punnily called the “Title Pool.” Readers would submit entries to be posted on that page for all to use or misuse as they saw fit. I now keep a private Title Pool file for puns, phrases, or snippets of songs, poems or conversations that catch my attention and seem like they may lead to something.

Create you own and see how it captures and inspires your ebb and flow of ideas.

 

A foolish day for a walk

Midday on a hot Sunday in Spring is not the ideal time for a walk along the beach. But I went anyway.

Jax Beach, FL - April Fool's Day 2012

Labeling it crowded would be grossly understating the scene. The beach was packed and the tide was already high and still rising, forcing everyone there to share increasingly less space. There was a lot to see, sure, but not a lot of room to do anything that involved moving from place to another along the coast.

This was when I decided to take my walk. And at first it seemed like a mistake.

I’m not one of those people who exercises at the same time or even exactly the same place each time. I procrastinate. I get bursts of energy and decide to go for it right then. I am all over the map at times and therefore wasn’t the least bit surprised to discover as I crossed over the dunes that early on a Spring Sunday afternoon was not the best time to get my walk in.

But I also didn’t let it discourage me. I switched on my pedometer and started weaving between towels, hairs, umbrellas and people toward the shore. Once there, I headed south, focusing only on the few feet of sand in front of me rather than the crowds of people ahead, behind, and surrounding me.

At first it looked like walking even a couple of feet would be impossible. Walking a couple of miles seemed out of the question. But I took that first step determined to make it work.

I had to dodge a lot of people who couldn’t care less if I walked or not. I had to stop and restart when beach balls or babies crossed my path at the last second. I had to weave around fishermen and football-throwing teens. I had to share space with squawking gulls used to having sand to land on.

I also got to watch a fisherman rescue and stingray and send it back out to sea.

Pretty soon it was time to turn around and retrace my steps, and although even more people had crammed together on the beach by then, the walk back actually seemed easier.

Maybe I’d simply adapted to the distractions and obstacles, which is what any writer has to do if they want to consistently produce.

Writers and other artists often find themselves trying to create in less than ideal situations. Crowds. Obstacles. Distractions. These don’t disappear just because we have deadlines or if we’re just not feeling “it” that day.

At those times we have to create anyway. We have to make that first move determined to get where we want to go.

Sometimes we have to get creative to be creative. And sometimes that leads to memorable results.

 

Into the wind

There are two kinds of reactions that the local gulls have to windy weather along the coast. Most of them huddle together in the sand, facing the wind with resistance and determination not to be blown away or allow their feathers to get ruffled. But a few abandon the sand and use their wings, not to resist the wind, but to interact with it. They play.

Gulls

There is nothing wrong with hunkering down. Sometimes battening the hatches and facing the storm is the only sensible approach.

But there’s nothing creative about it.

The creative ones are the gulls that see the wind as an opportunity and make the most of it.

On a particularly blustery day this winter my husband and I stepped onto the beach and found ourselves directly under half a dozen gulls hovering just out of reach overhead. They weren’t going with the flow and being blown about. They weren’t fighting the current.

Those gulls were managing the stream to suit their purpose. Not fighting the change, but allowing it to support them and enable their play.

Gulls

We stood there beneath them and watched as they experimented with the air, landed in the sand to rest, and then resumed their game of positioning themselves directly over our heads, at just the right angle to stop flapping their wings, stop moving a feather, and pause right there in midair.

Look at me, they seemed to say. Watch this!

We did.

Now when I visit the beach on blustery days, I watch for gulls playing in the wind. I always find a few, though usually not as many as we watched that first time together. Whether it’s one or a dozen, however, the lesson is the same. When faced with adversity, we can hunker down until it blows over, or we can use what we’re given, manage it, manipulate it, and transform it to create something spectacular.

Gulls

Creating is more fun.

Take every opportunity to soar.

My kingdom for a “real” camera

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

–Richard III, Shakespeare

As The Beach Writer I spend a good bit of time on the coast, and I spend a lot of my coast time walking. I need and enjoy the exercise, sure, but I walk because it helps me create. As I walk along the beach I see what I can see, and I think about what I can make of it.

Most days I snap an average of 20-50 photos with my iPhone camera, some of which I’ve posted here. I don’t fret about their quality. After all, they are snapshots, a glimpse of what I saw, a reminder of what caught my eye or tickled my brain that day. I don’t usually focus on what I can’t reasonably assume I can capture with the limited capabilities of my “camera.”

That changed last Friday.

I blame the pelicans.

Friday’s walk started out uneventfully. The day was overcast gray and breezy enough to wear a jacket, while not cold enough to stop me from walking barefoot and wading in the surf. In the beginning my husband was walking beside me but then something in the sand caught his eye for a photo and I heard the familiar “go ahead, I’ll catch up.” Soon we were separated by a quarter of a mile or more of beach, and that’s when they buzzed me on the left.

They being the pelicans. A pair of them snuck up from behind, flying no more than a couple of feet above the sand, and passed within 10 feet of me. They flew a couple of football fields ahead and then landed at the water’s edge. They were still there when I reached their landing spot and I noticed that just coming into view in the distance was an entire flock of pelicans mixed in with gulls, terns and skimmers.

The pair basically dared me to take their picture, allowing me to slowly walk within about a dozen feet of them and kneel down in the sand while clicking up a storm with my iPhone. But I wasn’t fooled. I knew I wasn’t going to get anything good. Maybe if it had been sunny I’d have gotten lucky with a couple of shots. But I have taken enough gray day beach photos to know that my iPhone camera can’t handle low lighting and doesn’t have a proper zoom function.

What I needed was the camera and lens that I used when I published the newspaper. That was a “real” camera.

“Where are you?” I asked my husband moments later, having given up on the camera feature and using the iPhone as, surprise, a phone instead. “There are pelicans here!”

Yes, I sounded 12. No, my husband was not shocked. We’ve been married a long time.

As we talked, a jogger approaching from farther down the beach startled the birds flocked ahead and soon all were in flight around, over and past me, making a beeline for my husband.

“They’re coming for you.”

I counted 18 pelicans plus the pair before I lost track. Easily more than two dozen flew past me, the most I’ve seen at one time and certainly the most I’ve seen that close. When I met back up with my husband up the coast, nearly half of the flock was floating just off shore, within wading distance, feeding on something clearly both tasty and abundant.

We watched them together until the wind picked up enough that standing still was undesirable, and then returned home without a single decent photo between us, but at least one shared thought.

It’s time to invest in a “real” camera.

All kinds of people


Crowded Jax Beach

Busy Jax Beach, Jan, 1, 2012

People are drawn to the beach by many things.

The waves attract surfers, body boarders, kayakers, and splashers of all ages. The water attracts swimmers and fishermen.

The sea spits out a daily dose of shells for the beachcombers.

The sand provides a soft landing spot for sunbathers and ample open space for the recreation of throwing footballs and frisbees, flying kites, playing bocce ball and tossing beanbags. The sand is also the building material of sand castles, simple and elaborate, the backdrop for sand writers and artists, and the hiding spot for treasures revealed by passing metal detectors.

The sun is there for everyone.

The beach is home to is a seemingly endless supply of wildlife to watch and interact with. Sea gulls and pigeons scavenge and kvetch. Ospreys and pelicans soar over head and then plunge into the water to come up with dinner. Crabs, sea stars, and other creatures that hug the coast move about in the shallows and on the sand. Jellyfish and occasionally something bigger become stranded on land as the tide recedes. Dolphins, sharks, and more can be spotted offshore with a sharp eye.

The beach is also home to people who have no home.

The beach serves as an outdoor gym for walkers, runners, and bicyclists. And it’s a wonderful people watching locale, topping both the mall and the airport as a gathering place for all kinds of people.

All kinds of people visit the beach to enjoy what it has to offer them. The same is true for your writing.

When writers follow the commandment to know your audience, we tend to focus on our target audience. That is as it should be. But it’s also important to remember that all kinds of people may come into contact with our writing, and to think about what our blog post, article, procedure, manual, course, or book has to offer them.

We shouldn’t try to be all things to all people, but it’s good to be aware that there are multiple perspectives, desires, and goals held by our readers. Our target audience is our primary reader, sure, but not the only one.

Keeping that in mind allows us to get to know our audience a little better.