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Catching Writing Inspiration From Surfers

Novel writer Liz deBeer catches a wave of writing inspiration while watching a group of children learn to surf.

By Liz deBeer

September 07, 2023

A surf camp interrupted my beach-day quiet. Between the instructors and their students, I could barely hear the gulls’ shrieks. After pulling off my cover-up and tossing it in my beach bag, I ambled closer to the water, hoping to swim a little without novice surfers crashing into me. When the cool water wet my toes, I splashed around to prepare myself to wade in further, watching the kids a few yards from me. Every wave, even little ones, was an opportunity for the counselors to yell out encouragement:

“Paddle, paddle, paddle! Go, go, go!”

A few kids responded, smashing their hands through the water hoping to ride a wave. My heart racing, I repeated the chant in my head: Paddle, paddle, paddle! Just a couple of surfers caught waves. Most fell back. Only one made it to his feet and received a high five from an instructor. Another wave, another round of chants and cheers. Some slid off their boards before the wave crested; others got up on their knees. Then they all charged back to the water to try again. And again.

After diving through one wave, I swam a bit in the salty water, before turning back to observe more from the surf camp. I realized this whole process resembles writing and submitting. When a work gets rejected, it’s not fatal. It’s just a missed wave, I thought, remembering a famous quote from author Barbara Kingsolver.

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package,” Kingsolver wrote. “Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”

Those kids kept going back, again and again, amped to catch the waves and stand up tall. Before I returned to my towel, several more had done it! More cheers and high fives for the first-time shredders. The kids who hadn’t, though, weren’t discouraged. They were coached to enjoy the water and try again tomorrow.

Like us writers: “Go, go, go! Paddle, paddle, paddle! Write, write, write! Edit, edit, edit! Submit, submit, submit!” I’m still waiting for a figurative high five and my imagined publishing party, but these surfers gave me a boost of hope.

We know of so many successful authors who were rejected countless times, including Beatrix Potter, Judy Blume, Stephen King, Maya Angelou, and many more. Jack Canfield, popular co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series wrote, “If we had given up after 100 publishers, I likely would not be where I am now. I encourage you to reject rejection. If someone says no, just say NEXT!”

The student surfers got that message too. When I returned to watch them again a few days later, the whole crew was shredding. Where were the novice surfers I had watched only days before? They had been transformed. While they didn’t catch every wave, they all kept trying. Every time one popped up and rose to a standing position, they seemed to say, “Keep paddling! Keep trying! Maybe the next wave will be yours!”

Liz deBeer, a retired language arts teacher, has published in newspapers, teaching journals, and magazines, including The New Jersey English Journal and Lilith Magazine. She currently resides in New Jersey where she is writing young adult novels.