Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Life's a Beach

It'd been five years since we'd vacationed on Cape San Blas, a narrow peninsula that points its finger away from the Florida panhandle and out into the Gulf of Mexico. Coming back to one of our favorite beaches was exciting, but for me, it held a special significance. The fall following our return from the Cape in 2007, I discovered And the first fictional story I posted there that was written for an audience, (unlike all the journal-format scribblings I'd done up to that point), was inspired by my real-life events that took place on Cape San Blas.

Last week while I walked on the beach, I thought a lot about that story and reflected on my writing journey from 2007 until now. My mind wanders when I beach comb; it is one of my favorite activities, a peaceful time when I marvel at the beauty of the sea and all the treasures she holds. The sound of the surf, the salty smell of the sea air, and the sun's heat intoxicate and inspire the writer in me.

The first day of every vacation we spend at Cape San Blas, I decide on a certain and specific item I hope to find while combing the beach. One year, it was a whole, intact sand dollar. Another year, I searched for a perfect, unbroken spiral seashell. Walking the beach becomes a sort of Where's Waldo scavenger hunt, with a prize hidden out in plain sight.

This year, I decided to find a shark's tooth on the beach.

As my eyes drifted up and down the wet, hard-packed sand at the sea's edge, I thought about how similar my beach combing quests were to the way I approach story writing. Ever since that first story back in 2007, I've started each new piece of fiction with a specific challenge in mind for myself. I try something new, something I've never attempted before. I wrote my first story in third-person, which is the natural, organic comfort zone for my muse. So in subsequent stories, I've tried first person, second person, and omniscient narrations. I throw myself into new genres, experiment with unreliable narrators. Once in a while, I write with pen and paper instead of typing on a computer. The idea isn't to rigorously challenge myself, so much as to give fresh focus to each new project, to heighten each experience and invite the unexpected into the mix.

In past years, I've successfully found the beach object of my desire. And next to pristine sand dollars and perfectly curvaceous spirals, I have bowls of broken shells, each beautiful for a special, one-of-a-kind reason, collected along the way. This year, I didn't find a shark's tooth. But that's okay; some challenges push you further, make you wait while you work harder for your results. This happens in my writing, too. Some stories fall short and don't capture the magic I intend, the first time around. Sometimes, I have to carry that focus into the next project until I master that which I grasped, maybe held for brief moments, but let slip away by the end.

One thing's for sure, while I hunted for that elusive shark's tooth, the balmy breeze and sugary sands of Cape San Blas inspired the writer in me, just as it did five years ago.

What new writing technique have you challenged yourself with lately? How'd the story turn out?

[Written for and published today, 6/12/2012, in's Drama Newsletter]