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.

 

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.

 

 

Just keep writing

Sea Star, Jax Beach, FL, Jan. 9, 2012

A Sea Star I saw as I walked the beach today searching for inspiration.

Like most writers I have my little tricks for those days when I don’t feel inspired to write. Music. Caffeine. A walk on the beach.

All three failed me today. The only thing I felt inspired to do was nap.

Napping, however, is rarely compatible with meeting deadlines.

What do I do when a deadline beckons and all I have to offer is a white screen, doubts, and regret? Well, I complain to anyone who will listen and also to those who won’t. Then, as a last resort, I usually just sit down and write.

Yep, that’s right. I just write. I write anything, even if that means I write “I don’t want to write a blog post” for line after line. I just keep writing until I have something to work with. Once I have words in front of me, I can cut and rearrange until I have something readable.

I was given this advice decades ago when I first started writing seriously. I have given it to other writers. But it never gets old. I’ve yet to meet a writer that doesn’t need to hear it over and over again.

Just keep writing.

Men On Bikes Talk To Me

“Don’t scare him,” the man said, quickly walking his bike toward me. “Rescue is on the way.”

Pelican under Jax Beach Pier

“Him” was a pelican meandering between the pillars of the Jacksonville Pier at the water’s edge. Intermittently he would swim a few feet when the ocean lapped up around him and then return to walking as the water line receded. Several pictures of the pelican were already on my iPhone before the man on the bike warned me to stop.

He wasn’t the first stranger to approach me on the beach. Walking a few miles up and down the coast several times each week puts me in the path of interesting, and sometimes weird, individuals.

Most who stop me as I pass them they want me to take their picture with the ocean behind them. One asked me if it was wrong to take home a shell that still had a creature inside it. Another made a beeline for me so fast that I instinctively took up a defensive posture just as he asked me what a “guy has to do to find a shark tooth around here?!”

Although few are creepy like shark tooth man, I tend to keep my distance and maintain my pace as I pass people. I have my walk to get in and they have their lives that don’t need to include me.

The pelican protector wasn’t creepy but seemed intent on talking to me, so I paused my walk long enough to learn that the pelican had oil on his wings and his protector’s name was Ray. Ray also told me that since the pelican couldn’t fly and therefore couldn’t eat enough on his own, the fishermen on the pier above had been throwing down bait to the bird.

Half an hour later as I made my way back down the coast I found Ray still straddling his bike and keeping watching over the pelican, warning walkers and surfers alike to give the bird space. With his right arm was in a cast, resting on the handlebars, Ray took up our conversation where we’d left off earlier, schooling me on normal pelican behavior and the work of the bird sanctuary to the north that would be picking up the pelican and returning it to health.

As a former surfer and longtime local, Ray knew a more than a little about all things Jax and was eager to share that knowledge. When I told him I was new to the area he launched into a list of parks and beaches I should visit, complete with driving instructions and landmarks to look for along the way. Ray also told me which local bars were the ones to frequent and where I could play a game of pool for a quarter.

I am extra appreciative for that last tip and plan to check it out soon.

I had to leave before the pelican was rescued but trust that Ray made sure everything worked out for the best. I didn’t realize that Ray and the pelican were part a theme week until my next walk, when I was once again stopped by a man on a bike.

This time I was walking with my husband. We were on the return lap, approaching the ocean rescue station, when I saw a man on a bike enter the beach and stop to take in the view. He was wearing a helmet and straddling a significantly upscale bicycle with a small, single-wheel trailer packed full of what looked like spare clothing, bedding and supplies.

“Excuse me,” man on a bike #2 said as soon as I was within hearing range.

“Whatcha need?” I thought maybe he was lost and wanted directions.

Man on a bike #2 knew exactly where he was and what he wanted was to have his picture taken with his front wheel in the ocean. My husband stepped up to oblige, patiently following the man’s instructions regarding the angle and counting to three so that he could pose and flash a peace sign alongside his wide smile.

We quickly learned that man on a bike #2 had just then completed a coast to coast bicycle trek. In 75 days he had traveled from Los Angeles to Jax! We were the first to congratulate him and he was still smiling as we wished him well and left him there to enjoy his moment. We forgot to ask his name, however, so he remains man on a bike #2 for all eternity unless, by chance and internet, he is identified.

In two days I had talked to two men who at first appeared to be striking opposites–the local ocean wildlife guru and the L.A. visitor whose only interest in our beach was getting his tire in the water to symbolize the finish line for a personal journey. What they had in common, besides their mode of transportation, was a unique perspective of our surroundings and a drive to share that perspective with anyone and everyone crossing their path.

Isn’t that a good description of a writer?

From those encounters I take away a gentle reminder to be tiny bit more open to strangers I pass in the sand, on the off chance that they have something unique to tell me. I am also now affectionately referring to the past seven days as Men On Bikes Talk To Me week.

Out of office reply

I haven’t been to my office in several days and I am therefore suffering from a terrible case of beach withdrawal. Wind, rain, and a cold have converged to create the perfect storm to keep me at home and, unfortunately, sedentary, since the beach is also my gym.

I have been combating withdrawal by sorting through the pictures I took last week and, just on the off chance that you are suffering from beach withdrawal too, I thought I would share a few…

Jacksonville Beach Pier

The is my usual view of the pier at Jax Beach as I walk under it. The pier attracts fishermen and people who want a long range view of the ocean and the beach. It also attracts waves, apparently, since most of the surfers congregate on either side of it.

Jax Beach

Some days the beach is extra sparkly. Those are beautiful and inspiring days.

Jax Beach

As the tide goes out, my work space expands considerably. This does not necessarily mean that I get more done, however. A bigger office isn’t always better?

In the interest of getting more done, this will have to do for a beach fix. I may be out of the office today but I still have to work.

 

Beach, Beach, Beach

This is the entrance to my office.

And this is my view…

I don’t necessarily type a lot here, but this is where I do my best work. It’s where the words come easily and weave into whatever I want to create.

The beach is always the same thing only different. Sand, water and wind carve out new niches, uncover what has been hidden, and reclaim what was just there a moment ago.

That is the sameness, the steadiness. But what is exposed and what is smoothed over changes day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment.

That is the difference, the endless creating and recreating of something new.

The beach is where can’t gives way to can, and where new beats up on same old same old.

Some might call the beach my muse, but it doesn’t whisper in my ear words that only I can hear. Rather, the rush of the wind and the crash of the waves drown out all of the noise of the world around me and inside my head, leaving me with a clean and quiet slate, a blank page on which to create.

The beach is as important to my writing process as the keyboard and the screen. It’s more important, ultimately, because the beach is what gets me started.