Writing Is A Longboat

The world is plump with writing similes but I don’t suppose another will harm. Anyway, this one I find useful.

Writing–writing with serious intent–is a longboat. Or a trireme if your fancy leans classical, or a dromon or a galleass. The main thing to picture here is a ship with both oar and sail.


Inspiration is wind in your sails. I’m not the first to shovel out that metaphor of course and I sure as darn won’t be the last. Because it’s a good metaphor. It is accurate.

Almost every literate person has caught a tailwind of inspiration at least once in their life:  a sudden urge to get their feelings down in ink, say; a significant moment in their life they want to record; the opening stanza of a poem that leaped upon them as they did the washing up. And that’s fine. In fact it’s rather beautiful, like a sunny day upon a lake, in an oarless sailboat, catching a pleasant breeze.

But what of those of us whose writerly ambitions are more pronounced? Who wish to see their name in print semi-regularly, or write a novel or- brace yourselves -build a career?

Well, occasional pleasant breezes won’t cut it. Not slightly. You’ve seas to cross. You should not, cannot, rely on capricious winds alone.

Make no mistake, if you intend to write daily, constantly, there will be times when inspiration will not be felt. Them’s the breaks: sometimes gilded genius pours from your fingertips, other times you’re a weirdo sat in your underwear staring bleary-eyed at a screen of zilch. The upside is you might have a pack of Jaffa Cakes. That’s the optimal scenario.

No wind. A dead calm. Your forlorn boat in an endless blue.

So what then?

Break out the oars.

The oars. Grim work, the oars. Your spine aches. You get splinters. But you have to keep writing, you have to if you want to cross a sea of your own making. You cannot wait for inspiration to blow in your sails. If you do, your writing will starve, thirst, dry up in the high sun.

BOOM. “Heave!” BOOM. “Heave!”

You won’t get far. A page, if you’re lucky. Maybe fifty words, maybe less even. And every word of it a grind.

But you’ll have got somewhere. Your epic voyage will maintain a momentum. Whats more, you’ll have worked your muscles. Flexed sinew. Built resilience.

So what seems like pain, agony even, will have been worth it. You’ll learn to row, get your head down and just press on. Given times you’ll find rowing easier- a little- and maybe you’ll build a good rate of knots whenever the sail hangs slack.

Better, you’ll learn to appreciate a good tailwind when you get one. You’ll make the best of your sails, tacking and jibbing for all they’re worth. Or some such nautical terms. I dunno.

Eventually, you’ll have crossed your personal ocean, whether that’s a novel, a story collection, a screenplay or whatever. And you’ll find your little longboat upon the golden shores of accomplishment. It’ll be all worth it.

But, please, try not to burn and pillage once you get there. This longboat metaphor ends before all that and, besides, these days it’s not the done thing.

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