Which way is starboard again?
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So how’s the book going?


For those of you wondering why I haven’t blogged for about a million years, it’s because I am working on Which Way is Starboard Again? the book – based on this blog and the journal I kept while sailing.

For those of you wondering where the book is – that’s why I’m writing this blog.

I figured this whole book thing would be a doddle. I love writing, I’ve got the material – how hard could it be? Answer: Harder than you think grasshopper.

Since I didn’t know the first thing about getting a book in print (I’ve been published in newspapers, magazines and online, but never in anything with more than 50 pages) I decided to consult the experts. I discovered, through author advisory groups both in NZ and overseas, that when writing non-fiction your best bet is to write a chunk of the book then provide chapter summaries of the rest so publishers can let you know what they are interested in hearing more of.

Well the first part was easy. I wrote a chunk of the book – the first third to be precise. (I am breaking it up into three sections; the craziness of getting ready to go, the trip itself, and attempting to reintegrate into society once we got back – which was a lot harder than either of us had anticipated.) 20,000 words, just like that. Done and dusted. Now all I needed to do was shoot off a few chapter summaries and I would be ready to start harassing publishers.

It was round about then that I discovered writing chapter summaries is not actually that easy. Essentially, when you are doing this, you are outlining your entire book. Which means you have to have a pretty clear idea of where you book is going to go. It is also rather difficult to précis an entire chapter of experiences and feelings in a couple of pithy paragraphs designed to make a publisher want to read the whole thing.

Then I hit another snag – outlining the entire book meant I needed to know exactly where the book was going and which events led to which. I was thrown into a bit of a chronological dilemma – which came first, the chicken or the volcano? I honestly wasn’t sure. I wrote in my journal frequently but haphazardly. I wrote about things when I thought of them or when I had the chance, I scribbled them down in all sorts of strange places – but I was pretty rubbish when it came to dates and locations. I had the main geographical areas sorted, but often had no idea of the exact name of the reef passage we were going through when some event or other happened.

I was about ready to give up in frustration when I had a brain flash. Through the awesome Winlink radio-email system (run by an amazing bunch of volunteers) we had emailed home regularly and Paddy had been much better than I in terms of names and dates and locations. So all I had to do was sift through our inbox and outbox and problem solved!

Going back through those emails a bit of an emotional experience actually – like going through the whole trip all over again, even the bits that I had probably deliberately blotted out a little.

The emails home during the start of our trip from NZ to Tonga were the hardest to read, knowing damn well that Paddy’s “Anna was a bit scared last night” was a much kinder way of saying “Anna is losing her mind right now”. Yes I still managed to do all my night watches and yes I did get better and better – but there were times at the start when things got pretty dark. I fully suspect there were questions over whether I would actually make it through the entire Pacific trip, and I am proud to say that I did. It was also great to read the later emails, particularly when it was just Paddy and I sailing on our own. The fear gremlins were at bay and, while I wasn’t going to win any sailor of the year awards, I was definitely getting there.

The emails were great and helped kick things back in to gear again – I just had to put the jigsaw together. The problem being, this was a lot more like work and a lot less like fun. I had to really think about what I was doing and a single paragraph would take me half an hour. So I started making excuses – the last thing I felt like doing after work was sitting in front of a computer screen at home, I had a bazillion other things to do in the weekends, I needed to keep up with the housework, hey look – there’s a picture of a cat on facebook….

I had to force myself to sit down and write the damned summaries and the more I looked at them and at what I had written the more I convinced myself it was unpublishable tripe. Every time somebody asked “so how’s the book going?” I felt a pang of guilt and wrote a bit more, but it really was an uphill battle.

The thing is I’m stubborn and I am determined to get this done. I am going to write a book. When I think about it, that’s all I have ever wanted to do – ever since I was a geeky child with my nose permanently buried in one of the things. And thanks to the support of my friends, family and Paddy of course, I am back on track again.

I’m going to try the conventional way (they say you aren’t a real writer until you have had your first rejection letter from a publisher!) and if that doesn’t work I’ll look at self-publishing or print-on-demand, either way it is going to happen in some form or another. I’m sure I’ll hit a few more speedbumps along the way, but there WILL be a book dammit! I will keep you all posted and you are more than welcome to kick my arse if I start procrastinating again!

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Writing on tour

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Writing at home

PS – I have also discovered this great website called AdviceToWriters which I have been following on Twitter. It provides writerly wisdom and tips for people who are stuck and gives brilliant quotes from a range of really awesome authors. Whenever I feel like I am banging my head against a brick wall it always makes me smile. Here are some of my favourites:

The first draft of anything is always shit – ERNEST HEMINGWAY

Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.  – NEIL GAIMAN

Writing is like sex: You should do it, not talk about it.-  HOWARD OGDEN

Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. – LAWRENCE KASDAN

The act of writing puts you in confrontation with yourself, which is why I think writers assiduously avoid writing.  – FRAN LEBOWITZ

3 Responses to “So how’s the book going?”

  1. First of all, any blokette who can navigate the Pacific without becoming shark feed has all the persistence needed to do ANYTHING! Now I’m write with you, because I just finished my novel Sunday and am churning the waters to avoid becoming vanity press chum myself. I would be proud to set a little rivalry on this, but I bet I’ll lose, because hardly ANYONE does what you did, mate!

  2. Thanks Ron! Well I didn’t become shark feed (though there was a large stroppy tuna that could have done the same job I reckon!) and I had a fair bit of help with the navigation, but it was pretty exciting nonetheless. Congrats on completing your novel – from what I understand finishing the things is half the battle! Good luck with publication – I highly suspect you will beat me and I am still trying to slay the chapter summary dragon! Keep me posted :)

  3. Stop procrastinating would ya! :D

    If you end up, self-publishing I have a series of ISN numbers you can choose from, and good contacts with printers.

    Looking forward to the epic epissal!


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