Monday, 9 April 2012

Writing On The Tides

Three years ago, I moved to a beautiful town by the sea. Now I’m here, I can’t imagine ever living in a place where I can’t look at, walk alongside or play in the sea every day.

What I need a bit of every day
Part of my obsession with the ocean is that I love surfing (or attempting to surf), swimming and messing around in boats. I also write books about mermaids so it’s handy for writing inspiration. But it’s only recently that I’ve realised that, actually, it all goes a lot deeper than that.

With its waves and its swells and its tides, the sea beats a rhythm that I see reflected everywhere. And in doing so, it makes me realise that the crazy roller coaster swirls of life are not crazy swirls at all. They are, in fact, the patterns that lie at the heart of everything.

I am particularly fascinated by tides, by what they do, by their regularity, their predictability, their patterns. Without getting too technical, here is a tiny mini lesson in tides...

Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels, caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the moon and the sun, and the rotation of the earth. We have two high tides and two low tides each day. The reason for this is to do with the earth moving round the sun and the moon moving round the earth. High tides and low tides relate to the time it takes for these rotations to take place, and the journey from high to low and back again takes approximately twelve hours and twenty five minutes.

OK, lesson over; let's cut back to the seaside town. Tides make a huge difference to what goes on here. For example, on a low tide, I can take the dog for a beautiful long beach walk. On a high tide, she will scamper onto the tiny scrap of sand that is visible and whimper with fear as the waves brush her legs. (So much for her pirate dog status!)

Poppy the Pirate Dog enjoying low tide walkies
On a low tide, the harbour sits quietly, full of stranded boats. On a high tide, the fishermen can go out and make a living. 

The harbour at low tide
At mid tide, the waves break at just the right spot for surfing. On a high tide, the waves build and build and then dump hard on the beach, making surfing almost impossible.

On a low tide in summer, there's room on the beach for the weekly volleyball game. At high tide, the volleyball players are more likely to be seen in wetsuits daring each other to jump off the end of the pier into the deep waters below.

And so it goes on. There are monthly variations, too. Twice a month, around the full moon and new moon, we get what is called a spring tide. This is when the high tide is at its highest and the low is at its lowest.

A full moon rising over the town, meaning big tides are coming
The opposite times are called neap tides, when the range between high and low tide is at its smallest. Low water on a spring tide is my favourite time for walkies as we can get all the way round the back of the pier, and the beautiful old jetty is revealed.

The old jetty, only visible on a very low tide
And we can collect mussels from the rocks that only show themselves at these times.

Mussels that spend most of their time hidden under the water
So what does any of this have to do with life beyond the seaside? And what does it have to do with writing? Well...everything!

As writers, our lives and our careers are full of ups and downs. If we have a great school event and sell lots of books, we are riding high. If we get a royalty statement that is down on the previous one, we worry that it's all going to end soon. If we hear that we have been shortlisted for a book award, we wonder if this might be the 'break out' book we've heard about. When we don't win the award, we think we'll never see our book in the shops again. We sell translation rights to a foreign publisher and we are elated. We hear of someone else selling for a much higher advance and we are down again.

The ups and downs are never ending. We write 3,000 words one day and we adore our job. We cross half of them out again the following day and we worry about writer's block. A contract from a publisher gives us security. A deadline gives us anxiety. On and on and on it goes. Sometimes we think that we can't take the ups and downs of it all any more. We get on the phone to our agents and start asking about paying back advances. Then suddenly, a plot point falls into place and all is well again.

I've experienced all of the above, and I know that it can make your head spin.

But then I look at the tides. I see that the tide is out and we can't go fishing, or the waves are high and we can't go surfing. These things don't give me stress and anxiety. They are beautiful and perfect, exactly as they are. Each thing we can't do means another one we can. No fishing means long walkies. No surfing means dramatic waves crashing over the pier. I don't stress about the position of the tide; I know that what I'm looking at isn't how it is forever. It's how it is now, in this moment, and it is constantly changing. In fact, the very fact of its constant flux is the most predictable thing about it!

High tide and beautiful big waves
So my last royalty statement was down on the previous one, or my editor wants a LOT of changes on the new book, or I didn't win that award I was up for - it's just a low tide. Nothing to stress about. Maybe the next day, the writing will flow, the book might be shortlisted for another award, I'll fix a plot issue that's been bugging me.

The tide will come in, and it will go out again. That is life. That is writing. Underneath it all, the beach is still there, even if we can't see it. The story lives and breathes, even if we haven't yet found it. This is not a cause of anxiety. This is nature, and it is perfect and beautiful in all of its changeable predictability. Every bit of it is to be celebrated and acknowledged and respected for its place in the beating heart of our lives.

And now, because high tide is a couple of hours away, and the water looks inviting, I'm off to try and catch a wave...



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23 comments:

Penny Dolan said...

Fantastic and thoughtful post, Liz, so true and and just right for a grey Easter weekend.(Especially far inland. Sniff.)

thinking of the days said...

Love this post and the photos!
You're right about the writing, and having just spent a month in sunny Australia by the ocean every day -I so wish I could live close to the coast.

scribblingladly said...

I was brought up within sight and sound of the sea and when I was in my thirties I moved to Northampton, which is as far away from the ocean as you can get in the UK. I still miss it, ache for it, yearn for it and go to it whenever I can. Folk say "why don't you retire to the sea" (this is where you comment "but Rosie you can't possibly be of retirement age; you look so youthful"!!!) but all my friends are here. So I just pootle off whenever I can to Sussex or Norfolk - or when funds allow, Cornwall - and soak it up. There is nothing like the sea on a stormy day, a calm day, a happy day, a sad day......

scribblingladly said...

And as for a full moon shining on the sea......

Lynda Waterhouse said...

hope you caught that wave Liz and that it was inspiring and exhilarating. Hoping to catch a wave in my writing today.

BucksWriter said...

Lovely post and very wise indeed. A seaside home shall be mine one day!

Joan Lennon said...

Thank you so much for posting this. Wise words indeed.

adele said...

How beautiful it looks! Lovely!

malachy doyle said...

Beautifully said, Liz. As another writer who lives and plays and writes within sight and sound of the tide, I couldn't agree more.

Writing Company said...

Writing the books or novels sitting on the sea shore is always a great excitement for writers. Because this brings a lot of ideas to flourish.

Carol Christie said...

As someone struggling with that second book, your post was just what I needed to hear! I think it's very true - only sometimes the tides take a lot longer or are a lot quicker to turn than you think.

Lynette said...

Is that place for real??? It's so gorgeous!
Amazing post, by the way. Very inspiring. Thank you!

Lynette said...

Is that place for real??? It's so gorgeous!
Great post, by the way. Truly inspiring. Thanks!

Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely, lovely post - and pictures. Right - off to plan a trip to the sea!

Jennie Walters said...

Lovely, Liz - perfectly put. There is something so elemental about the rhythms of the sea and you have linked that to writing and life very articulately, o wise one!

karen said...

A very lovely and wise blog post. Oh, that we could all be this wise at the start of our writing careers! But that's all the fun of the journey, isn't it?

Griselda Gifford said...

Griselda said: I loved your tide blog and the underlying message,also the beautiful photos as I do try to paint seascapes. I used to live by the sea and now I either visit my cousin in Hastings old town or we take the dog to stay near a beach somewhere - he's getting old and recently recovering from major surgery but I'm sure he'll like the next holiday near Snape - and will dash into the sea whenever possible! I once had a swimming race with him - but he won!

Griselda Gifford said...

Griselda said: I loved your tide blog and the underlying message,also the beautiful photos as I do try to paint seascapes. I used to live by the sea and now I either visit my cousin in Hastings old town or we take the dog to stay near a beach somewhere - he's getting old and recently recovering from major surgery but I'm sure he'll like the next holiday near Snape - and will dash into the sea whenever possible! I once had a swimming race with him - but he won!

Ness Harbour said...

This was a wonderful post that makes so much sense about the highs and lows of writing. Thank you

Liz Kessler said...

Thank you so much for these lovely comments. I'm glad my thoughts seem to chime with people xx

Jackie Marchant said...

This was lovely to read and your photos were beautiful. I lived by the sea many years ago and really miss it. Must be a lovely place to write.

Anne Booth said...

Thank you so much for that. Yesterday was definitely not a good day and I felt so down about my writing - it really helps to read your experience and to put it into context. I shall try to remember your post and catch the next wave...I think it may even be coming now...

P.S. And we love your books!

Little Leaf Guest House said...

This is beautiful. Swings and roundabouts and like a good friend of mine always says 'It'll all be OK in the end, if it's not OK it's not the end' :-) xx