Caught in the Eddies

Caught in the eddies

Caught in the Eddies

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This story is a metaphor. I’m just setting that expectation up now, because we’re about to get on a tube and lazily float down a river and I want you to know we’re going somewhere with it.

The river float isn’t just the metaphor, though—that’s literal: Last weekend, while my brother and his daughter were in town visiting, we went down to the lovely San Marcos River for a relaxing and refreshing float on its constant-temperature 72-degree spring-fed water, an absolute delight in a hot, humid Texas summer.

Most of the float is exactly that, just a laid-back, slow drawl along the current, sun warm on your shoulders and crystal-clear water cooling your backside. But it ends in a series of three little cataracts that spark things up quite a bit as you rush down them one after another.

I went down the flumes first, my niece in between me and my brother so someone was always there to catch her if she ran into trouble, but between the first and second chute I got stuck in a current at the side of the river and watched my niece go careening down the rapids in front of me, alone.

I’ve been on the river a lot, and while for the most part it’s perfectly gentle and safe, I do know that if the currents catch you they can carry you right on down past the exit platform and off to who knows where, so I gently panicked and hurled myself off my tube so I could kick my way out of the eddies that were keeping me stuck and get down to her.

That of course meant that when the next flume sucked me down after her, I was body-surfing it, clinging to my tube with one arm while the rest of me bounced over the rocks, scraping up knees and elbows.

I caught up to my niece just before the third set of falls, also waylaid by a strong current at the edges and stuck there. It was too deep to get back into my tube, and I didn’t have as much maneuverability that way anyway to help get her out, so I stayed dangling in the water, clutching the tube like the last float from the Titanic while I pulled my increasingly nervous niece back out and down the final flume to the exit platform where her dad now awaited, again bumping my way bareback down it right after her, a happy ending that just cost me a few bruises.

Navigating the Rough Waters of Publishing

So where’s the metaphor here? Well, my battering against the rockbed of the river got me thinking about the current publishing environment. 

Most of our writing careers tend to be that long, lazy float, bobbing along doing our thing, hopefully mostly enjoying the journey as we drift closer to our goal, that exciting rush the river may lead to.

Not everybody wants to ride the rapids, neither of the San Marcos River nor of the publishing world. Some folks are perfectly happy just pursuing their creativity, staying on that lazy river forever, and that’s a damned enjoyable experience.

But if you do decide to brave the flumes you may be in for a bumpy ride. We took that first chute as smoothly as you could ever hope, and while my niece continued effortlessly down the second, I got hung up in the pool at the bottom before I got there, unable to get out no matter how hard I tried to paddle that tube until I got out of it. Sometimes you have to try something different.

Getting where you want to go may be more challenging (and painful) than you expect.

That got me where I was going, but it also got me a little more banged up along the way—and the same thing happened on my way down the third flume as well. Getting where you want to go may be more challenging (and painful) than you expect.

Get Back in the River

It was a gorgeous day, cotton-ball clouds keeping the heat to a modicum, but letting enough sunshine through that we relished the idea of splashing back in, so we took the shuttle back to where we first launched the tubes and decided to start at the lazy part of the float again—a decision I welcomed after my exertions. Sometimes when you are tired from trying to stay afloat, you just want to relax and let the current carry you along for a while, while you regather your resources.

And then what the hell—by the time we hit the flumes again this time we felt recharged enough to give it another go. You just keep trying, keep getting in the water and going again. This time I sailed down all three falls perfectly, but it was my brother who got trapped in the eddies. You never know whose journey will be smooth and whose filled with challenges.

Stuck in the current with my niece, my brother was waving me down to come help when some kind soul swimming nearby gave him a push and got them going again. That happens in our field too: among our writing community, our mentors, our crit partners and cheerleaders, the agents and editors and other industry pros who may help us along the way.

We toted our tubes back to the beginning of the flumes and rode down another time or two, but by this time, after better than four hours in the water and fierce Texas sun, we were all pretty worn out and we decided to call it a day. It didn’t mean we didn’t have a great ride. We just knew when it was time to get out of the river and go home.

The River Is Always There

That doesn’t mean I’m through with that river. This wasn’t my first float down it by a long shot, and it won’t be my last. The beauty of it is, the river is always there for me, always that steady, lovely 72 degrees, always waiting to gently float me for as long as I like, and then hurtle me down its more challenging parts anytime I decide to step things up for a while.

And I hope by this point I don’t have to point out the obvious metaphor here: You are a writer, no matter what, because you write. Because it’s in you, part of the fabric of who you are, and it always will be—even if you’re not writing all the time. Even if you never write again.

Read more: “You Are a Writer, No Matter What”
"When Will You Be a 'Real Writer'?"

Take the flumes or don’t—maybe you just like the lazy part of the river; maybe the more challenging parts are fun and worth it to you. Maybe you’ll sail on through the flumes and maybe you’ll get stuck, and maybe you’ll be thrown off your tube and have to struggle to get where you’re going, or rely on help. Maybe you’ll have enough of it and call it a day for a while—or forever.

There will come a day when I do my last float on that river, but today is not that day.

And even when it comes, I’ll cherish every memory of all the times I joyfully traversed its waters.

Writers…talk to me about your own writing and publishing journeys, how you travel them, and what keeps you on the path.

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23 Comments. Leave new

  • Erin Flanagan
    June 27, 2024 11:23 am

    I saw this title and thought “Caught in the Eddies” meant “edits” and now that’s the only way I’m going to refer to this part of the process. Your posts always bring me so much Thursday joy!!

  • Bridget Snapp
    June 27, 2024 11:37 am

    Thank you for the inspiring article! I’m not on my last float, yet!

  • Kimberly Glassman
    June 27, 2024 1:13 pm

    Well. This was an excellent way to start my writing day. I could hear Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: Next Generation, Season 5, Ep2 “Darmok”) enunciating “Met-a-phor!” over the hum of the coffee shop.
    Thanks, as always. You’re a gift to writers everywhere.

  • Gilbert Corliss
    June 27, 2024 1:43 pm

    I was just looking at rh Three-act, Nine-Block, 27-Chapter outline structure and was picturing how your metaphor could fit in that story structure with little modification.

  • Christine E. Robinson
    June 27, 2024 4:15 pm

    Inspiring post! Thank you! The self-publishing journey fits the Caught in the Eddies, perfectly. The sequel went to the editor a few days ago. There’s no downtime with other prep work. There’s always the next flume to go through. Sigh! There’s no other way to do it. The ride is worth it. 📚🎶 Christine

  • Patty Warren
    June 27, 2024 4:36 pm

    This is so timely for me! I’ve always said I’m not a short story writer, I have too many words. My histfic group of the WFWA started an anthology last year and they encouraged me to write one for the book. I’ve not been published yet, but a short story seemed daunting. I gave it a try and almost gave up, but with lots of their superb editing help, my story made it in. We published on our anthology on Women’s Fiction Day, June 8!! Now thanks to “Feisty Deeds: Historical Fictions of Daring Women” I am a published author!! So you never know where that first opportunity will come from and where it may take you, but don’t give up – we are writers!!

  • Sharon Wagner
    June 27, 2024 7:00 pm

    My debut, The Levitation Game, won the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award for Science Fiction! But simultaneously, I’m querying my next book and receiving rejections. Swirling in an eddy, riding a roller coaster, Groundhog Day yin and yang is publishing. Ugh.

  • Beth Bonness
    June 27, 2024 7:34 pm

    At first I thought it was a metaphor for stories getting stuck in the eddies 🙂

    Just like you helped shift perspective about editing (editing is “assessing” and revising is “addressing”) now I’ll think of swirling eddies as a metaphor for my writing life and my stories.

    You look very happy by the way, all chill 🙂

  • Steve Cooper
    June 27, 2024 8:30 pm

    New guy here–just getting psyched up to squeeze my Spandexed butt into the inner-tube for my first publishing ride and I read that getting bashed against the rocks reminded you of the “current” publishing environment.
    Gulp! That sounds ominous.
    The old publishing current was daunting enough, and now the ‘current’ current is even harder to navigate? To what new obstacles do you refer?

    • Hello, new guy! Oh, where to begin…? I guess start here, and then follow the rabbit hole into modern publishing’s many rapidly evolving challenges. But welcome, and come on into the river! It can be a wonderful ride–but it’s sometimes a rough one.

  • Hi Tiffany, Thanks for your post. I have always loved long-distance running and, perhaps for that reason, view novel writing as a marathon. I’m about two weeks away from completing the first draft and will then start on the “eddies.” While not a marathon, I’ve decided that the editing process will not be a sprint either, and I have allocated six months to it (I work slowly). I’m converting your book into an editing checklist—I hope you don’t mind. I like to work methodically when editing, and I hope the checklist will ensure I cover everything.

    • Hi, Mark! Congrats on finishing your first draft–it feels so good, doesn’t it? 🙂 And I love that you’ve dedicated ample time to editing and revising–they’re the real work of writing, where your story comes fully to life.

      I also love that you’ve made a checklist from the book. I also created a self-editing checklist that may be helpful–you can download it for free here.

      Good luck! Hope you manage to enjoy the trek up Revision Mountain. 🙂


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