I’ve decided to trick myself.
I want to learn to sail. While the best way to learn to sail is to sail, I have a job that occupies the majority of my time, I live in the mountains, and I don’t have ready access to bodies of water, boats, and wind. The water is a mountain lake 30 minutes away. We sail on the weekends whenever we can, but even then we may or may not have wind and weather that are good for sailing.
When I can’t learn through practice, I turn to book learning. The problem is, I will not retain anything if I passively consume sailing manuals. I know myself well enough to know that would never work. I’d be bored out of my mind. I need story to make it stick.
Like most things I want to learn about or experience vicariously, I’ve been on the hunt for good fiction and memoirs set on sailboats. I’ve been disappointed by the selection. Most of the readable, page-turning books I’ve found are books about solo journeys around the world, which are usually written by expert sailors who take the basics for granted so they don’t write about them. And solo-journeys of course include super scary situations like knockdowns and rollovers and nearly getting cleaved by gargantuan ships when you’re all alone and sleep deprived and sailing night and day. These situations all make for high drama and suspense, but aren’t really great for getting a novice ready for feeling comfortable and safe as they’re learning how to sail.
The other problem I’m coming across in my reading is that sailing is a predominantly male endeavor. The majority of characters who people the books I read are men. I found one book by a woman, and it was a comfort to me. I could relate to her! It was incredibly refreshing. I’d like to read more experiences of women sailors. My perspective is different from a man’s. Seeing primarily men, reading primarily men, it makes me feel uncomfortable as a woman being a part of that world. Even though I know there are women sailors, I’m not finding their stories.
I often hear, “Write the novel you want to read.” As I shared earlier this week, I’m not ready to go there, to think about writing a novel or a book. However. I know I learn through narratives. Through people’s stories. I know I love words. I know I love language.
And I had a brilliant idea. I’m going pretend that one day I’ll write the sailing novel I want to read: a positive, feel-good, salt, sea, and sun novel about a woman or couple pulling up stakes on land to cruise on a sailboat. The blue ocean, the white boat deck, the rattle of water against the hull, the fwoom of wind filling the sails. The book would include the ordinary day-to-day life of living aboard, along with beauty of being on a boat in fair weather. That’s a book I want to read.
When I read about creativity as it relates to novelists, as in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, I’m always delighted to learn about how much research authors do before they even begin writing. So to prepare for my pretend novel, I’m doing research on sailing.
It may not seem like there’s much difference between “I am doing research” and “I need to study this manual,” but it’s enough of a mindset switch for me to be excited by the prospect rather than bored by it. I’ve started a lexicon to collect words related to wind, boats, water, rigs, hulls, sails, waves, currents, sea life, weather. This will help me with the language of sailing (and will keep my mind near the ocean), which will help me internalize the act of sailing in a way that I know will work for me when I can’t have the real thing.
A few years ago, I wrote about a making a prompt box to help keep me writing. Each day I’d free-write for 10 minutes about whatever was written on the slip of paper I pulled from my small wooden box. In the past year or so I fell out of the habit of using these prompts. As I started collecting words for my sailing lexicon, I remembered the box and decided now would be a good time to revive it.
I dumped the few stale prompts that were in the tiny treasure chest so I could repopulate it with a fresh theme. I cut several sheets of paper into about 100 small rectangles, and wrote a sailing, wind, or sea word on each one. Now, I’m learning about sailing in a way that’s comfortable and comforting, and I’m back on my 10-minutes a day writing practice 🎉.