Michael Haskins

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Sailing, a metaphor for writing

This past Saturday, Sept. 22, my friends Burt Hansen, Paul Clarin and Jim Linder, helped me move my 36-foot sailboat, Mustard Seed, to the boatyard on Stock Island. As the eagle flies, it’s about a five-mile trek; as the boat floats, it’s at least double that.

Burt and I have sailed for years. He and his wife, Nadja, have sailed all around the east coast delivering boats and he has worked at boat sales at various times in his life. He is a weathered sailor I always learn something from when we are out.

This was Paul’s first time on my boat; he has sailed the Caribbean and is well versed in the pleasures and difficulties of sailing. Paul is a motorcycle enthusiast. He claims you get more miles for your dollar on motorcycles, as compared to boats. For a weathered sailor to go for speed with motorcycles is confusing. Sailing is about anything but speed!

Jim Linder is a Navy man, who has his own sailboat docked (and I say this with jealousy) behind his house on a canal. Jim and his wife, Barbara, have sailed with me before. He is a diver and a handy guy to have around if you have trouble (which we didn’t – knock on wood).

Okay, you ask, where’s the metaphor?

I don’t do an outline of my whole novel. I know the beginning, maybe some of the middle, and what I want the ending to be. I may have some chapter sketches of things that can happen, twists, phony leads, and such; and I have notes on character traits. The rest is self-driven, as I write.

This trip to the boatyard (where I will get the boat surveyed by Reef Perkins so I can get insurance, and the bottom will be painted) began with us meeting at the city marina slip at 8 a.m. We left the slip at 8:45, about 15-minutes earlier than I expected. I had a beginning to this trip and was pretty sure I knew the ending.

This short trip to Stock Island was planned to get going by 9 a.m. and to arrive around 2 p.m. Like a novel or short story, that was the beginning and the end. Reaching the end, like getting to the boatyard in this case, is what writing and sailing is all about.

Once that fist chapter is written, the book takes on a life of its own. After Mustard Seed was out of her slip, weather played a big part in the trip. We had knowledge, ability and equipment to work with, but weather was the unknown. It was cloudy, with a 50-percent chance of rain, expected 2-to-5-foot seas inside the reef, and we had our foul-weather gear, just in case.

For the first time in a long time, we actually set sails in the seaplane basin, off Fleming Key, with an outgoing tide. It was good sailing along the Key, around it into Key West Harbor. Even with the boat bottom in need of cleaning and painting, we were doing an average of 6-knots, the hull speed of Mustard Seed.

The story, once the first few pages fall in place, maybe with a little editing and rewriting after they are initially written, will usually achieve a level where it begins writing itself, going along smoothly.

Murphy’s Law (and my character’s name in Mick Murphy, so this applies) says the longer you go along smoothly the closer you are to a serious bump! And Murphy’s Law applies to writing and sailing (and life).

I have ideas that I intended to use to help move my story along, only to find that somewhere within the previous pages, things had changed and the idea wouldn’t work. Suddenly, I realize I need to make a bad guy good, or vise versa. Or I cannot work a shooting or action at the location I wanted, the weather has changed and if that is the case, what I had planned has to change.

We were sailing out toward the ship channel marker, past Fort Zackary Taylor, following the coast of Key West; railing almost in the water, doing a little more than six-knots and then the wind changed direction! If we trimmed the sails to catch the wind we would be traveling too close to the coast, where it would soon be shallow. Mustard Seed’s keel draws almost six-feet, so I try to keep her in 10-foot-plus water.

We had to tack, so we could use the wind to move away from where we were trying to go, so we could turn around and sail back into that direction, from a better position. It is time consuming and slows you down. But it is necessary, if you want to sail and not switch to motorboats! Shame on you for even thinking that!

I will usually reread what I’ve written, before I begin writing the next day. Even if I have finished a chapter, before I begin a new chapter, I reread the last one. As the pages mount, of course, I do not read from the beginning, but I do go a chapter or two back. If I am writing everyday, I may only read the last chapter. While I am doing this, I am also editing and/or rewriting. It takes time, but everything is still fresh in my mind, like what I was thinking and trying to accomplish as I wrote the day before.

Yeah, it slows down my writing time, especially if it’s in the evening and I’ve spent all day at my fulltime job, and only have a few hours to write. But, to get where I’m going, like tacking Mustard Seed, it is necessary.

So slowing down to tack may not be what I wanted to do, but it was necessary to get where I was going and the boatyard crew was waiting.

So, can you see the many similarities between sailing and writing? There is nothing as exciting and exhilarating as full sails and the rail in the water and the quiet of carving your way through the seas; it’s a lot like sitting down at the keyboard and writing a chapter that goes along smoothly and feels right all along the way.

As they say when you're sailing, "Don't pee into the wind."

1 comment:

drskelly said...

Thanks for the blog. I use sailing metaphors with therapy clients all the time and need some ideas to feed my explanations! It was great to see someone from Key West. I took my first psychology class at FKCC back in the 80's. Is the landfill still there? - it really made learning an extra-sensory experience.

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