No Wind In My Sails

To use an old sailing phrase, you could say I’m stuck in the doldrums. And getting into this state of inertia is exactly what they told me not to do—they being podcasters on writing and authors of how-to-write books and instructors on Masterclass. I’ve heard their warnings: Make sure you have no between-book time. Plot your next book before you write the last chapter of the one you’re writing. If you stop writing for a day you start going soft, stop for a week and you fall behind, miss a month and you start from scratch.

It was our recent Amtrak trip that got me off track. There was something about riding the rails that breathed motion into the book I was writing. I’m ensconced, I kept thinking, and moving, both at the same time, and always with something new to see out my window—harvested fields and deserts and mountains and cities and towns. And inside were the passengers. In front of me and behind me and walking up and down the aisle beside me were people with hidden, and sometimes not so hidden stories.

All this charged through me. It was as though my brain was being fed chocolate-covered coffee beans. And with my fingers on the keyboard clicking in rhythm with the train, the book that was meant to take months more, came to its end.

So now I’m between books. And I’ve been feeling becalmed, as though I’m stranded in that belt near the equator, where winds sometimes stop blowing for weeks on end. Not knowing what to write next has left me listless and drifting. But I’m trying to remember the sailors who keep their sails trimmed. Ready to catch the smallest shift in the air, they have the best chance to survive. So though there is no wind in my sails, I’m trying to keep my ship in shape.

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