One of the most valuable parts of the writing process, for me, is the time spent not writing. That is, in order to stoke the creative furnace, it’s first necessary to stop what you’re doing, clear away the old ash, and make room for new fuel and tinder. Am I belaboring a metaphor here? Perhaps. But that’s likely the result of too much time spent cramming my creative furnace full of words instead of allowing space for inspiration to flow freely.
When I’m taking a break from writing, I like to stare out the window and gaze upon nature. I’m fortunate to be staying in a lovely cottage in the Mendocino mountains. It has a gorgeous view of Hammerhorn Lake. I can see straight down to the boat landing and the scruffy pines along the opposite shore. If I feel in particular need of inspiration, I go stand at the edge of the lake and breath deep the clean, pine-scented air to ease my mind of all the gobbledygook.
Lately, I’ve taken to skipping stones across the water’s calm surface. I find this diversion quite relaxing. I’ve become so proficient at stone skipping, that I’ve begun to imagine doing it competitively. There is an annual autumn stone skipping competition in Santa Rosa, and an even more prestigious one at Lake Tahoe.
My personal best is twelve skips. I’ve been stuck there, however, for some time, unable to manage that elusive thirteenth skip. It’s simply a matter of perseverance, like all things. In time, I will surpass that twelfth skip. Then the thirteenth. And so on.
Some of the training suggestions I’ve found online — such as finger strengthening, shoulder stretches, visualization techniques and meditation — should help me achieve better form and increased hydrodynamic and gyroscopic force. I also discovered a professional stone skipper in Geneva, Switzerland whose YouTube videos have helped me understand the physics behind stone skipping. Elias Jungman provides affordable online consultations, and I’m considering taking him up on this — though the time difference between California and Geneva, along with my spotty internet connection, may make this unfeasible.
The benefits of stone skipping have already made a profound effect on my writing. I’ve been able to challenge myself and grow as a writer in ways that I had not been able to before I took up stone skipping. As I begin my morning pages, the words pour out of me. It’s almost a shame to stop. But thoughts of stone skipping begin to slip into my brain. I worry that I may not make it out to the lake before the rain begins or the wind picks up. I worry that I’m overexerting my fingers on the keyboard and will not have sufficient finger strength to properly torque the stones. I worry that more devoted stone skippers are advancing their skills more rapidly than me.
Eventually, the worries become too great. I put the writing aside and hurry out the cabin to squeeze in another session of stone skipping while the weather is good. It’s true, some days I spend more time skipping stones than placing words upon the page. To be frank, most days I spend more time skipping stones than writing.
Honestly, there are days when all I do is skip stones. But I believe, in some way, this still serves my writing. In the long run, my writing will benefit from all this stone skipping. I think of every skip as a page of prose in gestation. And what I’m doing is collecting page after page of potential writing by adhering to this daily practice of stone skipping.
For me, like any writer, self-doubt always nags at the edge of creativity. Skipping, however, helps me to carry on through such uncertainty. I am not naive. I’m aware that all this skipping may not lead to some great work of literature. Nor does it ensure that whatever I produce will be published and find a receptive readership. But if I persevere I may at least have a crack at placing first in the annual Santa Rosa Stone Skipping Tournament one day — which would satisfy me more than any metaphor could express.
KEN NASH is an illustrator, graphic designer and animator. His writing has appeared in B O D Y, The Prague Revue, Oko Magazine, Bordercrossing Berlin and Revolver Revue. His work has also been included in the literary anthologies X-24: unclassified, The Return of Kral Majales and Flashed: Sudden Stories in Comics and Prose. He is the author of two story collections, The Brain Harvest (Equus Press 2012) and Life Raft (Equus Press 2019).
Read more by Ken Nash:
Three stories from Life Raft
Story in the September 2017 issue of B O D Y
Story in the July 2012 issue of B O D Y