Surfing through writers’ block – Andee Reilly

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By Andee Reilly

I’ve been stuck for what feels like hours, staring at a menacingly blank word document. What little patience I started with is now completely gone. I vow to give up writing forever. Even my faithful cat, the loyal companion that usually curls up on my desk, lap, or around my feet, has abandoned me. ♥

Considering the circumstances, there’s nothing left for me to do but grab my surfboard and head to the beach.

I anticipate what will happen when I arrive at my favorite surf spot. I’ll paddle out and catch the most amazing wave of my life. With my hair blowing back in the salty sea air and my board carving across the wave, the breakthrough I’ve been waiting for comes to me. The words I’ve been struggling with hit me like a close-out wave on an inside reef. Miraculously, I am free from the writers’ block that’s been plaguing me all morning.

This almost never happens.

Of course I’ve been stuck many times during the writing process, but the idea that creative inspiration rolls across me as I duck dive under a clear blue wave is far too good to be true. When I’m surfing, rarely do I have the time to contemplate my work-in-progress. For me, the reality of surfing is far too physically and mentally demanding to be worrying about my writing.

The surf session usually begins even before I leave home. Ocean swells are predicted well in advance. I go on the internet to check wave size and conditions at various breaks. Many spots have webcams where the waves can be seen in real time. The local weather is also an important factor. Is the wind calm? If not, is it moving in a direction that will enhance the waves or blow them out? But the best way to check the surf, obviously, is to get to the beach as fast as possible.

cover.aspxThe aesthetic experience is a huge facet of surfing. In Maui, where I live part of the year, the water is turquoise blue and crystal clear. We are surrounded by sea life, especially in the winter during whale season. If we’re lucky, we might see a whale in full breach. Sometimes they are close enough to hear the splash as they fall back into the water. There’s always a sea turtle or two pocking its head up to grab a breath of air. Besides the sea life, there are the other surfers to study: are they friendly, out for a good time, or are they the serious, aggressive types who think they own every wave?

Most importantly are the waves themselves to consider. On a small, casual day, I can relax and just have fun. When the waves are big, my attention is on the physical and mental act of surfing. I attempt to control my fear and stay focused as I see the large swells coming in from the horizon. Sometimes I paddle to catch the wave. Other times I paddle to get out over the wave before it crushes me on the inside. I don’t have time to think about anything more than what I’m doing at that moment.

While waiting for the next wave, my mind often wanders. It’s strange, the things that pop into my head. Sometimes it’s song lyrics or even just thinking about what I’ll be eating for lunch. My husband (my favorite surf partner) and I may chat briefly, but it’s understood that we are both committed to the moment and surfing. Often, in the middle of a sentence, he’ll paddle away to catch an oncoming wave. I try not to be offended. I can’t be because everything on the water is temporary – the swell, the waves, conversations, and contemplations. In those moments, I am one with the elements. I have no interest in anything beyond riding a great wave.

Being involved in a surf session demands my full attention. At those times, I can’t afford to hold on to anything. I wouldn’t dare try to come up with important plot points, twists or turns in my stories, or dialogue. Even if I trusted my brain to hold on to the ideas I may get while in the water, I don’t want to distract myself. I’m in the ocean to surf, and that’s all there is.

After a surf session, and I’m back home in my writing chair, I’m relaxed and my mind is amazingly clear. Sometimes I’ve even forgotten that I was stuck in the first place. Surfing has taught me to be entirely in the moment. When I’m in the water and focusing on the physical elements, breathing, paddling, and surfing, I let go of distractions. Most importantly, I have unadulterated fun. I try to bring that back to my writing. Doubts or fears I may have seem to fade away, and the words start to flow like a perfect wave.

Andee Reilly was born and raised in Los Angeles. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California, Riverside, teaches literature and writing at California State University, Channel Islands, and recently released her debut novel, Satisfaction. When not teaching or writing, she can be found surfing the beaches of Southern California and Maui. She fell in love with the Rolling Stones as a teenager, and their music has long served as an inspiration to her writing. Satisfaction is her debut novel.

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