Time and tides

Sunset off the port side“There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune: Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures.”

Shakespeare is my favourite author, by a long way. It seems a bit predictable and trite to say it in some ways, as he’s had such an amazing effect on the English language. But even though I’ve been seeing his plays and reading his work since I was first introduced to him in school at the age of 14, I still never fail to be moved by the way he expressed ideas. The quotation above is from Julius Caesar (Act 4, scene iii) and perfectly captures the masterful way he used metaphor in his writing. Paraphrased, it means “just go for it!” But metaphor says so much more. In Shakespeare’s use of the sea to evoke a sense of rising up to an opportunity, we also are reminded how easily we can get carried along by circumstances (currents) and how hard it can be to steer a direct course to a goal.

I find writing often feels like being on a rough sea. Some days I’m lifted by ideas and experiences; on other days I’m sliding down the wave into a trough of self-doubt. Can I really do this? Is this idea actually any good? Does the story have enough complexity and pace to keep a reader enthralled? And sometimes the sheer energy required to paddle back up to the top of the wave feels like too much. I’ll just stay here at the bottom. That’s much easier.

This week has been a week at the bottom of the wave. My day job is very demanding at the best of times, but at the moment it’s particularly busy. I love it, though, so I’m not complaining. And I’m planning to reduce my working hours in September to concentrate more on writing, so I’m not too worried about the ups and downs. But I’ve still been feeling like I have to expend more and more energy to try to get back up to the top of that wave. Then I remembered the Shakespeare quotation above, and it brought to mind a particularly rough crossing of the North Sea I experienced on a cruise ship a couple of years ago.  Storm force winds and high seas battered the sides of the ship as it ploughed on; up and down, up and down. And then it struck me. It went up and down with no effort. The sea did all that work. As long as the ship kept moving forward, the ups and downs were by the by. It just had to float.

And that’s all I have to do. Just float. Just wait for the ideas and enthusiasm to rise up again. Because I know they will. And I’ll take full advantage of them when they do. In the meantime, I’ll keep reading Shakespeare.