This past Sunday was a beautiful day in the Northeast, so Jim and I strapped the kayaks onto the roof of the car and headed down to the River. This wasn’t the kayaks maiden voyage of the season; child #1 and the French exchange student had kayaked last weekend and christened them for the new season. We hopped in and paddled away from the shore, the water calm and the wind barely blowing. The day had the perfect conditions for kayaking.
About five hundred feet into our trip, I started complaining. My life vest was riding up. My paddle didn’t seem to be working correctly. Someone had changed the foot pedals in the boat and my feet were too far away from them. Jim calmly told me how to adjust everything and we started out again but this time, I noticed the underlying problem, the one that was making the beginning of the journey so hard.
We were paddling against the current.
Makes sense. The river we kayak on feeds into the great Hudson River, so the water is going to flow in that direction. I had forgotten that for the first part of the trip, you were paddling upstream, as it were, going against the flow, which made making any headway more difficult. When we reached the turnaround, a little stretch with a copse of wild overgrown trees smack in the middle of the water, I put my paddle down. There was no need for it. The current carried us through this stretch, our boats moving silently and gracefully along.
See where I’m going here?
Sometimes life feels like being in a forty-pound kayak paddling upstream. Other times, it feels like you are on autopilot, being carried along by the gentle current, the one that leads you in the right direction. I think this analogy applies even more so to writing. You jump into your work-in-progress and….thunk. No where to go. Paddling upstream. Your vest is too tight. Nothing is working.
I always tell my kids that it takes way more energy to be negative than it does to be positive. I’m trying to bring this approach to life in general, and writing, more specifically. Paddling upstream on your book is a waste of time. So, show of hands: who likes to waste time out there? (I’m looking…I don’t see anyone.) I thought about what I do when I hit a bad patch in the plot or a character does something that doesn’t make any sense to me or I get a case of your garden-variety writer’s block. Well, in kayaking terms, sometimes I whine that my vest is too tight. Sometimes I blame it on the paddle. And sometimes I just row back to shore and rest a while until I realize what’s been stumping me. It may be as easy as starting over, putting my character in a different situation. I may have him or her run into someone and start a conversation. I might have them make a phone call. I’ll do anything to get to that tranquil place where I let it all go and let the current—or in this case, my imagination—guide me back to shore.
I may have stretched this analogy thinner than a taut rubber band and for that, I apologize. Sometimes, though, things just hit me in the face and make me wonder if other people experience the same sorts of issues in life and in writing.
What do you do when you find yourself going against the current or paddling upstream in either your writing or life in general?