Monday, April 21, 2014

Sailing Through Fog: How Writers Can Chart Toward an Unseen Horizon

Writing (and submitting, and selling, and promoting) can often feel like sailing through fog:

 photo 694968_zps97a5008f.jpg
Fog Photo by Psytrom, courtesy of Photobucket

It's pretty, but can you spot land on the distant horizon? Me neither. And the perils that lie ahead (other rocks, or, even worse, quicksand) are concealed, making the path more difficult. How can we make informed decisions when we can't even see properly?

Sometimes this happens on the novel level. Okay, I've plotted to the middle. Now what? I can't see my way through.

The same fog hits those of us querying or submitting manuscripts for critique too soon (something I've done more times than I'd like to admit). The book feels ready, doesn't it? We want to believe the rock is closer than it is, and then, crash. Cue rejection.

Or, for the published among us--trying to guess which audience your book will reach, and how to reach them. If this was clear sailing for everyone, all authors would have books flying off the shelves. But alas. Boat collides with rock.

Before we get too bruised, there's a better alternative. In her book Mystical Hope, Cynthia Bourgeault brought me the metaphor of sailing through fog in the first place. And offered this solution: "You find your way by being sensitively and sensuously connected to exactly where you are, by letting 'here' reach out and lead you...part of the local knowledge that all fishermen and natives use to steer by." (p. 49).

So it's not a matter of guessing your way ahead. It's about using what's immediately around you to chart your way. If I'd done that with my first novel, I would have realized it wasn't ready, and waited longer to submit it. Or, conversely, gotten the nerve to submit my more marketable novel to the WIP Contest instead of relying on the old, tired one just because it was complete.

On the novel level, this means looking at where your character is now...and why (not how) they got there. And using that to drive them forward.

As far as marketing and promotion go, use what avenues work for you instead of what everyone else is doing (or what's trending). Or, if you're agented but not yet published, this may mean trusting the course the river takes you, and adjusting accordingly.

Of course, hitting rocks is guaranteed. But we don't have to hit them all. Luckily, as writers, we can help one other navigate snags. It's why I love Operation Awesome, and the other writer communities I'm blessed to be a part of.

So, sail on. The horizon is there. Enjoy what surrounds you while you chart your way forward.


  1. I really liked this post. Great advice and I feel like there are a good bunch of us who have submitted sooner than we'd like to admit to. You're spot on with the feeling of the book being 'ready' and I love your advice about evaluating character growth instead of grammar or plot aspects when judging the prepared-ness for lack of a better word of a manuscript!

  2. Thanks, Hannah! If I can help others avoid the rocks I've collided into, I'm glad!


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