This Boat’s Heading South


Ernest Hemingway used to give himself a pep talk when his writing wasn’t progressing the way he thought it should.  In A Moveable Feast, his memoir about living in Paris during the years before he started to truly earn a living with his work, he says he would sit in front of the fire and squeeze orange peels into the edge of the flame and watch them sputter.  And he would think to himself, “Do not worry.  You have always written before and you will write now.  All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence that you know.”

Ray Bradbury, the author of Something Wicked This Way Comes, says that all good stories are the same in that they’re written from an individual’s truth.  “He must forget the money waiting for him in mass-circulation.  He must ask himself, ‘What do I really think of the world, what do I love, fear, hate?’ and begin to pour this on paper” (from Zen in the Art of Writing).   Bradbury promises that those questions, when coupled with honesty, will bring clarity to writing.  Furthermore, he claims, “ . . . he will relax because he thinks right and he will think even righter because he relaxes.  The two will become interchangeable.”

I find his advice about relaxing interesting because I get my best ideas when I’m near water – either walking on the beach or in the shower.  I never understood the connection, always assuming it had something to do with water but never being able to articulate why water was the magical formula, why it helped me.  But after reading Bradbury, I believe I know the answer.

New Age guru Deepak Chopra writes in Creating Affluence:  The A to Z Steps to a Richer Life, “It is important to have a clear goal in your awareness, but it is also important to relinquish your attachment to the goal.”

Relinquishing attachment and relaxation go hand in hand because we automatically relax once an attachment has been released.  And that letting go, the surrender, is the answer.  Where we get stuck is in believing that every person should have the same way of getting there.  The truth is that the process is unique to everyone.  Chopra swears by meditation.  Bradbury claims it comes by putting in hundreds and even thousands of hours into honing the skill of writing; in other words, the work sharpens the craft so that the writer can relax.  Hemingway’s process was getting relaxed in front of a fire and meditating on the comforting thought that he’d had always written and would always write.

Me?  While I’m walking the beach, I like to roll these lines from a Jimmy Buffett song, Manana, around in my brain:

I got to head this boat south pretty soon

New album’s old, and I’m fresh out of tunes

But I know that I’ll get ‘em, I know that they’ll come

Through the people and places and Callwood’s rum

Yes, rum helps.  And at the moment, that may be the truest sentence that I know.

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