Last night while watching "The River Wild" I reminisced with my son about a trip we took to the Rogue river in Oregon, where the movie was filmed. Though our trip wasn't as exciting as Meryl Streep's (we weren't hijacked by a gun-wielding Kevin Bacon, and we had an expert guide who steered us through some scary rapids, one of which required helmets) I think our children's favorite memory was seeing three large turtles perched on a log as we floated down a perfectly smooth portion of the river. I remember feeling as carefree as Huck Finn. When we came closer to the log, the turtles let go one at a time and dropped into the river: "Plop, plop, plop!" The boys were hysterical with laughter.
The guide told us that every spring all the river guides raft down the river, and memorize every section of it. Each year the river's character changes due to climate, water volume, shifts in the river bottom, and other factors. They don't take a bit of it for granted. Our guide was seasoned and experienced. When we approached the biggest of the rapids, we pulled over and he talked us through it. Everyone knew where to sit, which way to lean, and how many strokes of the oars to take when instructed. We donned our helmets and put our lives in his capable hands.
"OK, four strokes and then pull your oars in!" he yelled. One, two, three, four . . . "Hold on, folks, we're going through backwards!" We held on, went through backwards, and then, when we were on a quiet stretch, we took off our helmets and he told us what had happened.
"All the way, during the hour before we reached the rapids, I had estimated everyone's strength. I seated you where you needed to be in order to balance the raft. What I didn't estimate was your adrenalin. When we hit the rapids, your oar strokes were stronger than I expected. Three would have been enough. By the fourth, I knew we were turned around, and that's the way we took the rapid."
Quite simply, we didn't know what we were capable of accomplishing. In the writing world, that extra kick of adrenalin, of determination, may be what makes the difference between good and excellent, published and not published.
We also had excellent guidance on the river, and that is available to us as writers in many forms: writing groups, workshops, peer, judge and editor feedback, and our own ability to edit and improve as we develop our skills.
And let's not forget the extra bonus of the plopping turtles. We should have fun along the journey, and not miss those unexpected moments of pure pleasure.