Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Earlier today, I floated down the Oconoluftee River in an inner tube, the North Carolina sky grey and blue overhead, the clouds plump with fat drops that fell once or twice as I lay back and let the river take me. Mostly the water flowed evenly, a soft bob propelling me forward for a few hours of bliss. But there were rapids as well, accelerating my ride, thrusting the tube fast along the river, rushing me over ancient rocks, past verdant foliage lining either bank. It was a good ride, exhilarating and peaceful, and one I'll repeat in a few days' time.

It's also sort of how I write. The actual writing, the first draft pours forth like those rapids, a burst of fluid energy that zips along leaving me laughing and breathless. I usually find fifteen hundred words or so slapped onto the page in under an hour, finishing with the same kind of smooth landing the calm water beyond the rapids offers over and over again. The steady flow of most of the river is how the fine tuning works for me, a long warm stretch toward my destination, time never wasted as I get closer and closer to the take-out.

I know some writers are more steady, and it's even something I wish for myself. Two thousand words a day, every day, would be wonderful. For now, though, I'm like the river: short bursts, not quite as long as I'd wish, but never regretted, with good warning just like the rising trickle then splash then thrum of the water as the tube nears the rapid. I'm flowing like the water, ideas and words rising and falling from my pen as does the tube on the river. And then a calm, in which I relax and enjoy, maybe not the most exciting part of the journey, but the most satisfying. It's in those moments of quiet floating that I remember to see the mountains and the sky, to glance down under the dark skin of water for fish and otters and mossy stones, fallen leaves skimming the water, the details and beauty missed while the thrill of the river spins the tube over the whitecaps.

On Saturday I'll be on another river, this time in a raft, paddle in hand, all about the rapids. Maybe it will remind me of writing, and give me inspiration to take those fast furious moments of frenzied creation, and show me how to stretch them from fifteen hundred words to a quick repeat of more, and all of them as fresh and breathtaking as the river itself. There will be slow moments too, on the Tuckaseegee, even a spot to climb a rock that Cherokee Indians no doubt scaled a thousand years ago, and jump into the cold still depths waiting patiently below. I'll lie back there and rest, eyes on the mountains surrounding me, sniff the trees and memorize the world. I'll edit my day, plan my second draft before plunging back into the storm of the river.

I hope I never get true writer's block. If I do, I'm afraid my only recourse might be going over Niagara Falls in a barrel. A fast fall, dropping endlessly--surely a hot eighty thousand words will spring from my pen at the bottom. If my arm isn't broken, that is.

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