Wreckers on a beach


It does occasionally happen that I get to the end of a week and find I have little to show for it. Alas, this has been one of those weeks. Consequently, I find myself in an awkward position, and am not sure how to twist my way out of it. The position is simply this: I have been unable to produce an Arthur Wingsmith post this week, and not through lack of effort, either. I doubt that it is a problem of the dreaded writer’s block, since I have ideas and all the fingers necessary for typing them out. I’m not suggesting that my ideas are good, just that I have them. Anyway, I’d hardly claim to be engaging in random acts of high-literature here, so the quality and execution of ideas doesn’t have to meet peer review standards. (Comment spammers and trolls don’t count as reviewers. In my book, they don’t technically count as people. Of course, some of them think they are people, but they are wrong.) The problem, then, is not one of standards – I’ve been told many times that I neither meet nor have them – but of an absence of text. Why should this present me with difficulty? Good question, but I’m afraid I don’t really know. Okay, so I do know, but I’m trying to avoid telling you, mostly because I’m supposed to be writing fiction here, and this seems to be going in an altogether-too-truthful direction. Suffice it to say that it matters to me for myriad uninteresting reasons, and so I have to post something. But what? To find out, I shall have to come at it sideways. I call this sideways approach the wreckers on a beach technique.

Because I may find that I have to refer to this technique more than once in what follows, and because ‘wreckers on a beach technique’ is a bit of a handful to type, I’m going to give it an acronym. This acronym is WOAB-TECH (pronounced “woe ab tek”; the hyphen is silent). I have, just today invented WOAB-TECH, so I’m going to spend a little time outlining how it works. Not because you need to know, but because I do if I’m going to use it. I want to be clear, this is probably not a technique that can work for every writerly endeavor. If you happen to be the sort of writer that requires what you write to ‘make sense’, ‘say something important’, and ‘be interesting’, then WOAB-TECH is not for you. The technique’s only true goal is to make words appear on the page, or, as is more common these days, on the screen. Preferably, these words should appear as sentences, but they don’t have to if you don’t feel like it.

While the aim of WOAB-TECH is the production of words, the technique doesn’t start with words at all. It starts with an image. In this, it borrows from the practice of using images as writing prompts – an age-old technique still much in use amongst writerly professionals. Yet, that more accepted image-prompt-practice permits the use of any image at all for its implementation. Not so with WOAB-TECH. No, the image must have at least one boat or ship in it. Why? Well, because I like boats/ships, and I’m the one inventing the technique, that’s why. (The presence of water, on the other hand, is optional.) I sense that the ‘because-I-said so’ rationale for use of boats/ships in the technique is not satisfying to you. Fair enough, how about if I suggest that boats, ships, and other water-going vessels are a rich source of metaphor, and are therefore much better suited to pulling words out of reluctant imaginations than almost anything else you could name? Would you buy that? I mean, that’s pretty much all I’ve got by way of believable justification, so it doesn’t really matter if you don’t. Tell you what, let’s just pretend that you believe it so we can move on. So, moving on then….

….Once a suitably boatish/shippy image has been chosen, the ‘writer’ (in this case me) must ‘explore’ it. Questions must be asked of it. Questions like: how does this make me feel, and what does it all mean? To successfully deploy WOAB-TECH it is very important that you don’t write any of the answers to those questions down. To do so might dump you in fairly hot existential water. No, instead, you identify the image’s symbolic elements – especially if those elements seem like they probably aren’t really there – and then write about them. At this point, how you write about them is up to you. There really are no rules, except for the ones I just outlined. Allow me to demonstrate by way of example.

My normal procure-an-image practice is to look for one on Wikimedia Commons. For the most part, I have at least some idea what it is that I am going to be writing about in any given week – whether it be more properly a ‘story’ which I call a Narrative, or something more ‘bloggy’, which I call an Article. I should point out that both are works of fiction, I have just broken them into categories I feel reflect a difference in format. A narrative is something like the “A smoking monkey” cycle, or the post entitled “Witnimble”, while articles are more like the sort of thing I am presenting here. Having some idea of what the substance of the post will be, I try to find an image that fits. The fit is not always perfect, and sometimes it’s even a little lateral, but it is still informed by the ‘idea’ of the post, if not necessarily how that idea will look when it is finished. But this week, I had trouble. I had an idea, and a picture that referenced it, but found that I was travelling along a narrative path that probably needed more time in the oven before I let it out. And so, at the eleventh hour, I had to find a new image to reflect a new post idea for this week. Only, I had no ideas that appealed, and so I went looking for paintings of shipwrecks.

Why look for shipwrecks? It’s just that they seemed like a great analogy for how this week was shaping up, and last week hadn’t been much better, either. I was just in that sort of mood. Even the semi-fictional, ghost-written entity has bad weeks. But I was at least sulking with a purpose, I would find the image that would allow me to post this week, I would face down the guns of disappointment and say: “not today worthy enemy” (even if it did turn out that today was, in fact, the day that those guns did me in, worthy enemy or no). And there it was, the image. Just the thing I needed, the painting I have featured for this post: The Wreckers, painted in the 1870s by Robert Gifford. Perfect in its serendipity.

Now, the wreckers of the painting are not quite the kind of wreckers I thought they were. I thought that perhaps they might be the kind whose job it is to ‘break’ ships apart once the vessel had reached the end of its working life. Well, maybe they are, but in this case they are portrayed in an act of salvage – of pulling the wreck onto the shore to gain access to all the really interesting and valuable bits. What ho, I thought, that’s exactly what I need to do for this week’s post. Metaphorically, I need to pull the broken hulk of Arthur Wingsmith up onto the beach and strip it for useful parts. And so, image and link went into the draft template, and I began my work.

I reflected on the image, turning it first one way and then the other, and then I began to write; the strange alchemy had started. Before I knew it, through the machinations of the The Wreckers, there were words, and then a new technique to help produce those words, and then an acronym to cut back on the use of some words, and then there I was. At the end of a post I had no idea I would be able to write this week. The one that you just finished reading (if I’m unlucky, it gets a bit weird at the end).

So, that’s pretty much how WOAB-TECH works. It’s effective don’t you think?

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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