On Staying the Course

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Back in the 1980’s when I first met my future husband, he taught me to sail. I’d never set foot on a sailboat before then, but I loved it from the very start. The rocking of the waves against the hull, the pressure of the wind filling the sail, the flapping of telltales. Being on a sailboat is a delight for the senses. But it is also a universe with its own rules, language, and skills.

Navigation is a great example of this. There is something odd and counter-intuitive about navigating on a sailing vessel. For one thing, you can almost never go precisely in the direction you want. And you can never ever sail directly into the wind. Then, you have to understand that turning the wheel might mean little if the wind and current aren’t with you. Even if you do everything right, sometimes the wind dies and you end up drifting.

What I learned from sailing, I’ve been able to apply to my writing as well. There are elements of my writing career that are under my control. I can study my craft, practice, seek and apply feedback, but just as it’s impossible to force a boat to head directly into the wind, I cannot control the direction of the publishing industry.

Right now, it seems like every book on the young adult shelves is either a dystopian narrative or a paranormal love triangle (or sometimes a combination of the two). If I want to see my books in the marketplace, I have a number of choices to make. Assuming that my writing is good enough for publication, I can either write what I already see on the shelves or I can write the stories that have resonance for me. If I chose the former path, then I’m sailing using yesterday’s weather report or forcing my vessel to go against my personal tide. Either way, I’m not going to get where I wish.

If I choose the latter, then I pick a course that may not take me directly to my destination, but it may be the best course wind and weather will allow. It may take a zig zag path, but if I trust in my navigation abilities, staying the course may be the only way through the doldrums.

For all of my fellow travelers on this writing journey, may you find your smooth sailing, fair winds, and following seas.

–LJ Cohen

(Photo by pwcrockett, used with attribution, cc license)

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7 responses to “On Staying the Course

  1. Great post, LJ! I’m all about following the course and writing what I love, because the market is even more fickle than the wind. 🙂

  2. Thanks so much for this , LJ. We’re going through a family health crisis and this is so timely. Amazing how it all comes together. Last night when I couldn’t sleep I read this in Rainer Maria Rilke’s “O You Delicate Ones:”
    “Don’t fear suffering. And heaviness?
    Return it to the earth, to earth’s own weight.
    Heavy the mountains, heavy are the seas.”

    • Kate–I am sorry to hear of your family health crisis. Thinking of you. Ah, Rilke. His work is a balm to the spirit. That’s a beautiful piece of writing. Thank you for sharing it.

  3. Love the analogy. I am a sailor, myself. I spent many years as a mainsail trimmer on 30 foot racing sloops, so you took me back to that place at once. You also returned me to my constant writing companion: the same dilemma you are facing.

    When I sailed, I loved the upwind beat—never direct, always exhilarating. I choose the same with my writing. Of course, I always keep my eye on the competition, but following the pack never guaranteed anyone victory.

    • Nice to meet a fellow sailor. True story: The first time my future father in law let me take the wheel of his Pearson 31, it was a beautiful day. Then the light breeze started picking up and he and my future-husband started shouting at me to ‘fall off.’ They just neglected to tell me what the hell that meant in real, practical, lisa-at-the-wheel-of-a-heeling-boat terms. So I took my hands off the wheel in a panic. We steered into the wind and stopped.

  4. Two words. Yeah, baby! LOVED it. Keep tacking, you’ll get there!

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