Sunken Ships, Sunken Words

“When you do a hunt, you go where it definitely isn’t. And pick a direction.” –Dr. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the Titanic.

On April 14, on the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I had the privilege of hearing Dr. Robert Ballard speak at Titanic Belfast, the new exhibition honoring the city that built the ship. And although Ballard was speaking about how he goes about hunting for sunken ships (which he is still doing), his thoughts apply to words as well.

Where do you go looking for the words, when you’ve looked and looked and looked?

Ballard had looked for the Titanic before and failed. He and his co-explorers had used the same technique every time, known as “mowing the lawn”–back and forth, back and forth. The problem was that they didn’t know the ship had broken in half (they hadn’t seen James Cameron’s movie!). In 1985, Ballard decided to look at the patterns of the currents, and it opened a new way of seeing.

There are times we sit at our laptops, and it feels like mowing the lawn. And really, we can go a long way with that discipline. Sometimes, though, we need to approach the page in a new way. What if we aren’t looking for an intact whole? What if we pick a direction and go looking where we know there is no story?

We just might find a debris field.


  1. Megan– so nice to hear about some tidbits from your trip to Ireland. This is a wonderful application for the page… Start the hunt somewhere, anywhere, and find a direction … I’m going to remember this!

  2. I’ll have to think about this. I’ve written entire books knowing where they were going, but not how they were going to get there. Newspaper and magazine articles are much simpler and more direct. But starting with only a direction . . . That’s an interesting approach.

  3. I like that idea Megan. It sounds like wisdom to me!

  4. Hello Megan — writing on Recover Your Joy every moment for 5 years and now A year of Making a Difference has taught me one very valuable and important lesson — Always, always Trust the Process.

    I no longer attempt to ‘guide’ the writing. I simply let it flow. I trust that when I begin, the words will appear from whatever mystical, spiritual, unnamed place they appear.

    And after 5 years of doing it every morning, it continues to unfold with ease and grace when I Trust the Process.

    Lucky you btw — and what a gorgeous building.

  5. I would be nice to collect some word-debris these days! Maybe I’ll try your technique. I’m so tired of mowing the lawn.

  6. Nice analogy–an out-of-the-box way of discussing out-of-the-box approaches to our work!

  7. Beautiful, Megan! I love this. Welcome back to Texas!

  8. Great analogy. I find this when I am creating–a new website, a logo, brochure. Some of my best work comes after I think I’m done, as I’m looking over the first pieces I worked on. I guess then I’m free to free-think more, to follow the currents and see where it takes me since the pressure is off.

  9. Patterns? Currents?
    Okay, I’ll be looking.

  10. I think there’s a lot of writer’s block going ’round lately. I reckon it has a lot to do with the changing seasons. Our hearts need a new normal when the daylight hours shift. (Well, at least mine does.)

    That image is neato-mosquito.


  11. there is a current
    that flows
    no one has seen
    where it comes from
    or where it goes
    but it makes
    it’s way
    blowing through
    hearts open
    like a window
    on a summer’s day

  12. When I free write and just dump debris on a page, it surprises me that sometimes I find a pearl in the pickings.

    My husband just told me that he remembered hearing that witnesses in the lifeboats talked about how the ship broke in two just before it sunk, but that the experts said that would have been impossible–that it was too strong, that it would have gone down whole. I’m sure there’s a writing application in that. Maybe sometimes we just have to trust our own eyes.

  13. Mowing the lawn is what I do
    back and forth,
    back and forth.
    I mix it up
    and start
    digging out weeds,
    wondering why it
    never looks the way
    I dream it might.


  14. Sounds like a really cool talk. And, can you tell I’ve been at a loss for words when the best I can come up with is really cool? I agree with Sandra–I need to spend some more time in free writing, and in living a story worth writing about.

    Hope to hear more from your trip! Hugs.

  15. Oh, oh, oh. This is just what I’ve been needing to hear about my own writing. Because Jenn the Writer is in hiding. I’ve been trying to coax her back out….no luck yet. This might help. 🙂 Thank you.