What the Water Teaches Us

There are few summer activities that will make one more aware of river currents than kayaking. Sitting in the kayak, provides a front row view of the water and an immediate pull of the current. As the water ebbs and flows, suddenly it can take a lot more effort to direct the kayak than it did before. Perhaps the flow of the invisible current pulls one toward the beach or pushes away from the beach.

The invisible hand of the current shapes the entire trip, making the person on the kayak strongly aware of when they are going against the current or along with the flow of the water.

Writing can be like that sometimes too, where each project seems to have an ebb and flow of its own. An author can have a terrific outline or story in mind, only to discover a few pages in that the dialogue seems labored and the plot feels impossible.

Stories, especially novels, can take on lives of their own, and I know several writers (including myself) who get stuck in their writing projects. Sometimes it’s the character that doesn’t fit or the plot, and all roads seem to lead to dead ends. Sometimes it’s worth starting over completely from scratch and trying something new, like pulling the kayak out of the water completely and trying a more navigable river.

Other times, it’s a matter of pushing through the current by paddling like crazy to force a way to the other side by continuing to write until the problem works itself out and quieter waters appear through the struggle. Lastly, it can also turn out that the river isn’t the problem, and instead it’s the solution. Going with a new flow turns a story into something even better, by floating in a direction entirely.

Both writing and kayaking are creative processes of adaption and adjustment, changing course when necessary and making judgment calls about how much effort to expel when something isn’t working as planned.

I suppose that’s also true about life in many ways. If the universe is telling us that we are going against the current, we always have the choice (and even invitation) to change course. That said, we often become stronger by paddling harder upstream than by coasting with the flow. Growth can sometimes be only managed through a lot of effort and change.

Of course the true secret of life is knowing when to paddle like crazy to get where you are going and when to pull up oars and float awhile to go with the flow. Either way, we’ll learn something if we are paying attention.