The Blog

Finding Your Compass: A Writer’s GPS

Preface
Writers who are blocked need a way to chip through the ice. Writers who are distracted need a way to find their center and level out. Writers who are lost need a compass to guide them.

Direction comes from many places; inspiration from one: some find it through a higher power; others locate it from a place deep within; and still others discover their writing voice from an unexpected source, outside their comfort zone.

I found my compass one night while reading the Mary Pipher book, Writing to Change the World. I wrote the following statements in a stream-of-consciousness wave of words spilling forth to follow Mary’s advice and dive into the experience of writing. These answers are my own personal immersion into the knotted fabric and crooked anchor of my soul. Reciting these lines helps me when the waters are murky, visibility is poor, and layers of gunk hold me back from practicing my craft.

I swim best at night when the tide is high and the fish are calm. I swim best at night when the lifeguard chair is empty and the moonlight becomes my compass. I swim best at night when waves lap against the base of a  mountain and coral reef whispers my name. When do you swim best? What or who is your compass?

The absurdity of life, as seen in a Mel Brooks movie, makes me laugh.
Feeling unappreciated makes me cry.
Seeing my daughter excited to go to her first karate class opens my heart.

I repeatedly tell my wife that we have to have faith—where there’s a will, there’s a way, it’s all part of God’s plan.

Imagining life without my parents keeps me up at night, picturing what it will be like to grow old and seeing loved ones die, these thoughts occasionally haunt me.
Dreaming of a carefree life in the Caribbean helps me sleep. Hearing the ocean lap against the shore and knowing that man is but a small wonder of all God’s creation helps me sleep.

I know that most people are by their very nature good and intend to do good by their fellow man.
I know that the sun will set this evening and rise tomorrow morning; I know this to be true as long as earth remains.
I know that life has meaning.
I know that God intends man to rise and man to fall. I know there are lessons in every decision—and a moral to every story.
I know that truth is smarter than science. I know that medicine is miraculous and those who practice it lead admirable lives, but I know too that man has only so much control over his destiny—and man should be satisfied with his place in the universe.

I consider people who molest children to be evil or at least shameful with no character. I consider those who enjoy seeing others experience pain or whose actions deliberately hurt others to be without conscience and, by association, perhaps evil.
I’m not sure I believe in evil, as much as I do in good.
Evil spelled backwards is live, and to live with no purpose, to live to destroy others is shallow and destructive, but I’m not sure if to live this way is the proverbial root of evil.
Money, the great and alluring lucre, is not evil per se.
Desiring money over all other things is a way of thinking that is uninspired and limited. Being morally bankrupt is lacking integrity and honor.
Are these things evil? I’m not sure.

Life is beautiful.
Death is beautiful once you’ve come to terms with the concept of all life having a beginning and an end.
Death is beautiful because if you believe in an afterlife and you believe in a merciful God and you believe in answers beyond this stage of existence, then death has meaning.
God’s creatures, though complex and often perplexing, are beautiful.
Nature in its most raw of all forms is beautiful.
Untainted land is beautiful, but so are man’s creations—architecture, living structures that show pride of craftsmanship.
Women are beautiful; men, straight men attracted to women and gay men attracted to men, are mostly and merely mortals who struggle to control their base desires.
A labyrinth is intricately, simply, astonishingly beautiful.

I respect knowledge.
I respect truth and sincerity.
I respect those who respect me.
I respect most of all those who never seek respect but show it.
I respect the laborer who has a family to feed.
I respect the scientist who has minds to nurture.
I respect the clergy who has souls to encourage.
I respect the teacher who has pupils to inspire and understands the great responsibility that comes with the profession.
I respect hard work, but I also respect those who have found an easier way to live, as long as their deeds are honorable.
I respect those who volunteer and those who dedicate their lives to people with special needs.
I respect strength and wisdom, but I do not respect power and greed.
I respect veracity and the careful selection of words to convey meaning.
I respect my Muse. And I respect all writers who craft their message with care and consciousness.
I respect my Creator.
I respect my wife for all she does to make our lives better.
I respect my parents for teaching me right from wrong.
I respect the musician who hears the note between the chords—and follows his genius.
I respect the artist who deserves a second chance.
I respect the professional athlete who appreciates his God-given ability and takes seriously his responsibility as a role model.
I respect the words written by America’s forefathers and I respect the courage it took them to set free of England and make a new life.
I respect my immigrant grandparents and all those immigrants who seek a better life in America.
I respect the differences in all people—and I respect their freedom to choose their beliefs, be they religious or secular.
I respect the Native American for fighting to keep his land.
I respect those things I cannot see and those things I cannot hear.
I respect ideas.
I respect creation.

I’m excited by the idea of a new story. An inventive plot with rich characters and surprising twists. I’m excited by the thought of connecting with people on the page—by expressing words that resonate and have a lasting impact on others.
My curiosity is piqued by the choices that people make and why they make them.
Dialogue and dialect; the perspective of a child vs. that of an adult; the reasons behind the unthinkable, but also the reasons behind the thinkable, I’m made curious by all of these things.
I’m curious of the unknown and I’m curious of where my life will lead me or whether I will do the leading.
I’m curious of man’s nature, but I stand by my belief of his nature unless I am proven wrong. I’m curious whether I can be proven wrong. Or right.
I’m curious why bad things happen to good people, but I’m just as curious why good things sometimes happen to bad people.
I’m curious if I will make a difference in anyone’s life—and I’m curious why that matters to me.
I’m curious why cats are so curious and dogs appear satisfied with what they know.
I’m curious if anyone will read this, but mostly I’m curious whether they will want to.
I’m curious if I’m driven to succeed or if I’m just driven to distraction.
I’m curious about those things outside my life that have little bearing on me personally, but are important in the big picture.
I’m curious if church and state will remain separate or if, in fact, they’re separate at all.
I’m curious if politics will change with time, or whether this is as good as it gets.

If I were ruler of the world, I would burn money and build bridges.
If I were ruler of the world, I would use bullets, prison bars and electric-wired fences to build those bridges.
If I were ruler of the world, I would elect a government that preferred:
Dancing to bombing
Painting to preening
Singing to saluting
Playing to working
Listening to speaking
Collaborating to mandating
Participating to dictating
Asking to answering
Nurturing to alienating
Celebrating to crucifying.
If I were ruler of the world, the prisons would empty and The Grand Canyon would fill.
If I were ruler of the world, every day would be a day to behold because a person’s worth would be measured by the love they shared.
If I were ruler of the world, I would hand over my power to the people and preserve life on earth with the tender, love & care of a mother’s gentle touch.
If I were ruler of the world, God’s saving grace would be in each of us. And the words of an idealist would be the law of the land.

Before I die, I want to write a novel. Make that three.
I want to walk on water.
I want to touch God’s hand.
I want to teach my daughter the way of the world is not the way of God.
I want to teach my daughter the way of the world is in a person’s heart.
Before I die, I want to see the Great Barrier Reef. I want to drive the Amalfi Coast.
Before I die, I want to fly circles around the moon.
Before I die, I want to grab a shooting star and hurl it across the universe.
Before I die, I want to be understood.
I want to be loved.
~ DC 10/9/07

About Dan Cafaro

Dan Cafaro is the founder and publisher of Atticus Books, a small press based in Madison, N.J. When Dan is not following his wife around the country, he is known to sit for long periods of time pondering how to live off the grid. Atticus Review is his first literary journal.

4 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. sethu menon
    August 7, 2010 at 6:37 am #

    really interesting

  2. Robyn M Soeed
    August 10, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    Dan

    I LOVE to read the words that come forth when someone digs deep within.

    It is such an honest expression.

    Regards

    Robyn

  3. Dan Cafaro
    August 10, 2010 at 1:41 pm #

    Robyn,

    Thank you so much for responding to this post and the kind words. I'm having one of those days that require some positive feedback from somewhere and you've provided the necessary potion.

    I look forward to continued dialogue.

    Dan

  4. Robyn M Speed
    August 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm #

    Dan

    I am glad to have lightened your day!

    Sometimes it is the smallest of things we do, and I try never to forget that. And besides, what you wrote was worthy of appreciation and response.

    Regards

    Robyn