The Mystery of Story – Watching the Tide

green-ocean-tideSo you’ve reached a point in your story where you’ve finished writing a scene but the characters refuse to move away. There’s more of the story to come, so they remain frozen in place like a faded tableau.

As the author, there’s nothing you can do but wait for them to come alive again. And when they do, you can feel the action arriving from a long way off.

I’m grateful to Tim Winton for his breathtakingly accurate description of this process…

“Writing a book is a bit like surfing,” he said. “Most of the time you’re waiting. And it’s quite pleasant, sitting in the water waiting. But you are expecting that the result of a storm over the horizon, in another time zone, usually, days old, will radiate out in the form of waves. And eventually, when they show up, you turn around and ride that energy to the shore. It’s a lovely thing, feeling that momentum. If you’re lucky, it’s also about grace. As a writer, you roll up to the desk every day, and then you sit there, waiting, in the hope that something will come over the horizon. And then you turn around and ride it, in the form of a story.”

When my characters resumed their scene at three this morning, I remembered everything I could and wrote it all down in the first light of dawn.  But just as a wave recedes, taking the flood of rich green waters with it, not everything washed up onto the beach, onto the page.  Bits of the story floated back out to sea like seaweed and salmon, bluebottles and baitfish, lifejackets and old flairs, on the ebbing tide.

I have faith that these ‘lost’ parts of the story will come again on the next wave, the next high tide, the next full moon… sometime.  And like all writers before me, I simply trust, knowing that the story is alive.

It will return these treasured pieces to me if I sit waiting on the shore believing in mystery.

– S.K. Riley


A Writer’s Morning Ritual

Firstly, I forgive myself for not writing during the fullness of Christmas festivities.

Guilt is wasted energy.

Let’s begin again…


Early Morning Chores

  • Make strong black tea with honey.
  • Feed the cat, family, guests.
  • Water the summer vegetable garden, wave to neighbours, and harvest lunch.
  • Register the day’s energies: Full Moon /Heat Wave – a great day for fiery writing!
  • Make notes of ideas that have already arisen for the novel.
  • Set up books to be read or referenced for the day ahead.
  • Respond warmly to Email from an Editor writing from the frozen north.

At the Writing Desk

Books and other items within reach, which I may put my hands on throughout the day:

  • Cloudstreet, Tim Winton
  • Rhythms of the Kimberley, Russell Guéhom, Tim Winton
  • New Legend, Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre
  • The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien (for the maps)
  • Lots of other maps, old and new
  • Old calendars
  • Mountains of research notes
  • New heart-shaped green pencil sharpener (from one of the Christmas crackers pictured here)
  • Pencils ready to be sharpened
  • Notebooks, both empty and full
  • A hobbled-together computer station
  • Cat asleep under foot on a sheep skin rug


Whether to keep Researching, Outlining or …

Forge ahead on that chapter that can’t wait to be written? (Today I will do all three.)


Need to see a Middle Eastern Recipe book. (This will never make it into the book, but I need to know the right spices.)


I already have a complete outline of the plot, but there’s much more work to do on characters and scenes.  I’ll forge ahead on this as the day allows.


A particular character from Chapter One, whose actions have been wordless until now, wants me to focus on the story from her Point of View.  Although I’ve already made a decision about POV, once this Chapter is written, I’ll know much more about whose POV is strongest for the telling of this story. It doesn’t hurt to remain open and flexible at this early stage of the draft. And holding this openness makes it easier for this character to forget her shyness, step forward and speak.

And so we begin…