It was windy here in Odenwald yesterday. We walked through the thick pine forests in the late afternoon, protected from the wind and enduring the light rain. I was glad not to be at sea. Last year at this time I was getting ready to transit the Panama Canal. After that transit, came one of the most arduous sails I’ve ever experienced. I’ll not bore you with the details, but for those interested there’s more here.
When I moved ashore last November, I’d clocked up over 100,000 ocean miles. Only a few highlights, and moments of cold dread remain; the rest has faded to grey. The lessons learned however, remain clear.
One lesson I learned early was ‘the time to reef (reduce sail) is when you first think about it’. Ok, sounds good, but I doubt if 10% of shorthanded cruising sailors do that. Optimism, procrastination, and reluctance to wrangle flogging canvas into submission in a rising sea are just three of the reasons. I know, because I was guilty of them all. I told myself the wind would reduce again; invariably it continued to increase. ‘I’ll do it once I have’ [insert any lame excuse in here], and of course the wind would increase while I was being lame, making the task more difficult and hazardous. Eventually, and slowly, I learned things do not get easier if you leave them and hope they will get better or go away.
I’ve tried to apply that rule to writing. We all know when it is just not working, that what we should do is hit that delete key, but we forge ahead anyway hoping that it’ll get better. It doesn’t. We waste more time, and the more we write the harder it is to delete it. After all, who wants to scrap 2000 hard won words? Next time your gut tells you ‘no! stop!’ Put a reef in that chapter before the wind and sea gets up.
‘One hand for the boat and one hand for yourself’. Obvious from a sailing paradigm, but how does that apply to writing? There’s no point hauling away on a topsail sheet with both hands, throwing all caution to the wind, and then fall overboard. All the hauling is then for nought.
In writing, we must preserve and grow our ‘other life’, our actual, physical life. Regardless of whether you write about a philosophical mole that lives by a river, or about oversexed vampires looking for new recruits, at some level, it is our real life that inspires our stories. Let that stagnate and your writing will wither and die with it.