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January 12th, 2010 / 11:37 am
Craft Notes & Random

SURFING FOR WRITERS

riding giants

So last night while I was under hypnosis, my hypnotherapist, who is also a friend from school, was trying to return me to the memory of being in a mental & physical place where I could write with intense focus and without distractions.  And something fairly strange happened.

Less than 24 hours earlier, I’d come home from the Dominican Republic, where I’d been for almost three glorious weeks, and where I wrote a lot.  For most of the trip I was alone in a little cottage with no internet (and for a few hours a day, no electricity either).  I was working on a project that to some degree I was making up as I went along: For a few hours in the evening, I’d sit and outline and make notes.  I could feel the idea out there, and I just had to harness it and arrange the elements and make sure they were in place for the next section before I sat down to actually write.  Once they were, or I thought they were, I would sit down with my laptop and write fifteen to twenty pages until it was dawn.  I wrote without getting getting up much, with intense focus, and with momentum: One of those rare and exhilarating times where the writing picks you up and takes you.  I’ve always called that sensation “creative euphoria.”  Most HTMLgiant readers know it, I think.  So my hypnotherapist was trying to get me to that place.

Another thing I did in the DR was go surfing the day before I left.  I’d never really surfed before.  The waves in the DR aren’t big (which is maybe optimal if you’re just learning), and after only a day I wasn’t very good at it, but I loved it.  Basically you do this:

  1. Swim out and float in what seems like the right place.
  2. See a wave coming.
  3. Position/aim yourself just right to catch the wave.
  4. Paddle hard so you’re going fast enough that the wave will pick you up rather than pass over you & abandon you in its afterchurn.
  5. Zoom suddenly forward on the wave with what feels like incredible grace and speed, skimming over the water smoothly and without friction.
  6. Leap to your feet and, keeping your balance, ride the wave, maintaining that experience of effortless speed, grace, and divine momentum for as long as you can.
  7. Go out and position yourself to catch another wave.

Anyway, last night, my hypnotherapist was telling me to return to the memories of “creative euphoria” that I felt while writing in the DR, and the memory that my mind kept presenting instead was the experience of surfing: the sensation of swift & unimpeded velocity, of skimming without friction over a liquid surface for as long as I could maintain poise and balance.  Immediately it became clear to me why I liked surfing so much–and why it was fortunate that I’d done it on this particular trip.

Surfing is the perfect sport for writers.* The process of preparation is eerily analogous, and the reward is a concentrated version of a creatively euphoric experience.  Every night as I got ready to write, I could sense the next part of the idea out there–the mood and the elements and the kinetic energy gathering on the horizon.  It was like a wave coming, of course.  In order to catch it, to take advantage of it, to maximize its possibilities, I had to put myself in the right place and position myself correctly, then work (get myself in the right mental space, relentlessly write down by hand whatever I was thinking, force myself to capture the ideas) just like I had to paddle hard in the seconds before the wave came in order to get swept up with it. And then when I sat down to actually write–if all went well–I had the euphoric experience of frictionless momentum, of being propelled effortlessly forward while having to maintain perfect, precarious balance.  (And knowing that if I allowed myself to get distracted or took a wrong step, I’d “fall off the board.”)

I was in the water for a long time.  I have bruises and aches everywhere (knees, hips, and upper stomach get it the worst).  But by far the most frustrating part of being back in New York, which feels like Siberia this week, temperature-wise, is how badly I want to go surfing again, right now.

*Joyce Carol Oates says it’s running, as you may have read, but personally I’ve never found that to be the case.  I hate running.

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