Cruising to a Book Contract: A Brief Account in Pictures
Going to sea, or at least paddling around on Jordan Lake, has long been a good problem-solver for me. As I've often written about here, a major turning point in my writing occurred on board the Queen Elizabeth 2 about 15 years ago. It led to the revision and quick sale of my long-in-progress novel Sister India.
So a few weeks ago when my brain felt dried-out and overworked and a plethora of cruise bargains surfaced online, I booked almost-last-minute passage on the Queen Mary 2, sister ship of the vessel that was so good for me before. Prepared by my earlier experience, I boarded expecting a miracle of creativity to arise between the soup course and the salmon. I was also prepared for the complete absence of epiphanies; surely deep-sea enlightenment couldn't strike twice in the same place.
But it did. And here's the short version (longer more nuanced version is in process for later publication.)
Step One was a conversation initiated by my friend and writing guru Laurel Goldman. She knew the sort of thing I was going to sea to ponder. She'd been thinking about something for six months or so that she wanted to mention. And that was that she saw in me sometimes a sort of wisdom that hadn't shown up in my books. Couldn't give examples or put her finger on it, but it had to do with being non-judgmental. I thanked her, finished my packing, and set sail, letting that interesting observation of hers float where it would in my mind.
Step Two: I began reading one of the several books I'd brought along, this one sent to me by a Twitter friend in Indiana, author and Quaker minister Brent Bill. The titles: AwakenYour Senses: Exercises for Exploring the Wonder of God.
The first part I read had to do with close observation of what was coming in through the senses. It was a good choice for a time of already heightened sensory acuteness: what with the dessert menus, the men dressed for dinner in tuxedoes, the thick white fogs then endless vistas of rolling North Atlantic.
Step Three: a day on ship was full of activities to try out or ignore. I decided to take a watercolor painting course, which would not seem daring on the face of it, but was a stretch for me. While I've always been attracted to drawing and painting, I've mostly stuck to doodling because of an unfortunate requirement I've made of myself: that every piece I produced be better than the last. Ridiculous, of course, but seemingly unshakeable.
The watercolor class was in the belly of the ship, on the lowest passenger deck, where, if one listened beyond the edges of the conversations, it was possible to hear ocean slapping and rushing against the outside wall. There were no portholes down here, and we set to talking about light sources and warm and cool color. Talking and studying until I found myself impatient and started making little paintings as I watched and listened.
My one goal for the class other than playing: to refrain from caring whether one of my doodles was better or worse than the previous one.
Short version of this story: a success! I splashed and dabbled and did not give a damn. It was delightful.
Step Four: The book on awakening to my senses tells me that a matter of great importance is to avoid judging what my senses are taking in: simply experience and notice.
Step Five: Putting the pieces together– Laurel's wisdom, the awakening book, the painting, the overwhelming size of the ocean — to form my epiphany. Observe without judging. Let that idea float loose in my mind when I go back to my writing.
Step Six: Back home, I get two offers in one week for publishing my long-long-long-in progress novel Cobalt Blue. Hallelujah! I accept the offer from British publisher John Hunt, for simultaneous publication in the US and UK.
A coincidence, you say? It's true that the novel was already written when I first put foot on the ship to cross from New York to Southampton, England. . Surely nothing that happened there could have affected this outcome.
Even so, you can bet I'll hit the high seas again the next time I want to sell a book. I wouldn't want to be judgmental about it, but this technique has now worked twice.
At our next meeting, the writing group I'm in (led by previously mentioned Laurel) celebrated my contract. I brought refreshments. And cobalt blue decorations from my long-accruing collection.
Finally,Step Seven: I glanced fondly at the wisdom I've long been keeping visible in my top desk drawer. And these will be the final words of this brief account in pictures:
Categories: enhancing creativity