A couple of tall ships are visiting Bodega Bay. I keep thinking about going out and standing on the dock to see them close up and maybe even get a tour.
But then, I have work to do.
Whenever I start a new novel, I feel like I’m treading water in the middle of the ocean, no land in sight. Above me is the stormy sky, threatening rain and in the distance, lightning which will have nothing to strike but little old me bobbing around on the white caps. Around and below me is the dark sea. I’ve swum in the ocean before and remember the uneasy feeling of something under there in the darkness threatening to come up, grab hold and pull me down. After seeing the movie “Jaws”, I now have a picture in my head of what that something is, which is why I’m too chicken to swim in the ocean any more. Thank you very much, Peter Benchley. Ah, the power of the written word to plant ideas in a person’s head! It doesn’t help that I live on the California coast not far from the great white shark breeding grounds of Tomales Bay. (One bit a lawyer last year and spit him out, I kid you not!)
But I digress. I started out thinking about writing and now I’m thinking about sharks in the water. Focus, Francine, focus!!
Over the first months, I collect ideas, scenes and snippets of conversation like barnacles on the bottom of an old schooner trying to go around the Horn. Right now, my desk is covered with those ideas, so many that it looks like a storm hit and scattered paper everywhere. How do I make sense of all this mess? I shuffle. I dig. I hunt. I groan about my lack of organization. And at night, I dream more ideas, jump out of bed, grab my flashlight, step over Sarge (our faithful German Shepherd) and run into the kitchen to jot them down on the grocery notepad.
Somewhere along the process of writing, the characters take over. The story takes over. Usually that happens toward the end of my WIP (work-in-progress).
I’m halfway through this novel and I’m riding the seas and loving the wind in my face. It doesn’t mean I know what course I’m on or where God is taking me, but I keep going, sails unfurled and catching the wind. Sometimes the sea spray hits me full in the face and knocks me back, but I climb the steps and stand as close to the Helmsman as I can, trying to see through the mist. He whispers instructions and I have to lean in close to hear Him. What next? I can’t hear you. Can you speak a little louder, please?
The crew is swabbing the decks, up the masts working the sails. Characters are starting to shout at me, impatient for their turn to tell their part of the story. The thing is I can’t rush. Sometimes I have to tell one to be quiet so I can hear the other speaking, and I always have to keep eyes and ears trained on the Helmsman. Sometimes a crew member can make a mistake big enough to damage a ship, and I’m still an apprentice sailor. I’ll always be an apprentice sailor.
I love writing when it feels like this, when the characters and story just take over and the writer is just along for the ride. And I know someone is in control and knows where this will all lead even when I don’t. When writing feels like this, I pray more and pray harder that I don’t let the ride distract me from the reason I got on this ship in the first place.
We’re all swimming in a big dark sea. I want to show the loving hands that pluck us out, hold us close, and lift us up.