Dead reckoning is defined as the process of calculating one’s current position by using a previously determined position, or fix, and advancing that position based upon known or estimated speeds over elapsed time and course. Or, more simply put, if you know where you started and you know which direction you’re going and how fast you’re traveling, you should know where you’ll end up. It works on paper, and so long as all conditions remain constant, it should work on the water as well.
These days, modern technology has taken a huge chunk of the challenge out of basic coastal navigation. Electronics can show you precisely where you are, where you’re going, and how fast. It can display the bottom in multicolor hi-resolution detail, to the point that wrecks and obstructions appear like photographs. But old habits die hard, and I still prefer seeing my course charted out on paper, complete with calculations and notes along the edges. I’ll glance over the the GPS occasionally to take a fix and verify everything matches, but that’s just a backup to those paper charts and penciled headings. For a Luddite like me, it keeps things interesting.
But with dead reckoning, there are always variables that affect the outcome. Wind. Current. Foul weather. Unforeseen delays, unexpected obstacles, mechanical failures, some guy named Murphy, the list goes on. Anyone who has logged much of any time underway knows that. And these same principles apply to writing, and life in general. Reaching each mark on schedule is the goal, but it’s not always the case. And sometimes we find ourselves far from our intended destination, (yes, I would in fact have checked the GPS long before that point, but bear with me for this metaphor,) scratching our head and looking around, getting our bearings. The funny thing about being off course is that you don’t realize you are until you do, and then all so suddenly you realize you aren’t where you thought you should be. The next challenge involves determining where, exactly, you actually are. And part of figuring that out is calculating where and when your heading shifted, and for how long.
Non-writers seem to believe the writing and publication process is a straightforward, linear process. We plot everything out on paper, navigate the course, and HooRAY, we’re novelists. Someone said as much the other day. “You decided to write a book, and you wrote it.” Yes, determination is part of the equation. But only one facet. Just as with dead reckoning, writing a novel sounds relatively straightforward, but there’s still those pesky delays, obstacles, winds and currents, all conspiring to throw you off course. And as with navigation, it’s not until you realize you’re not reaching the mark you expected that you have to stop and figure out where you are.
In the passing year I’d begun to sense I’d lost my heading. Plain and simple, I wasn’t happy with anything I was writing. Everything that had worked for me in the past wasn’t cutting it anymore, and the more I tried, the more I fell short. It was time to figure out where I’d gone off course, and what it would take to get back underway.
In hindsight, it appears pretty clear where I drifted off track. In fact, I can pinpoint the exact moment – that same moment I found half the roof, ceiling, and oak tree limbs all over my desk. I’d lost my main writing space. The room I normally retreated to had been destroyed, along with ALL my outlines and notes for the book I’d been admittedly battling with. More than that, the entire house went on to become a construction zone. With nowhere to hide, my home upside down and my writing stalled, I fled back to work at a boatyard, just as I had when I first began writing. I’d just get my bearings and get back on course, I told myself. I’d done it before, I could do it again.
But somewhere along the line I began to lose focus on my heading. The days rolled into weeks, then months. I began to realize I was far off course. Writing anything was becoming a battle against everything else pressing for my attention. I’d neglected my own blog, my writing here suffered from the strain. And worse yet, I knew if I remained on that heading much longer, there was no way I’d ever complete my next book, or any more going forward. I was way off course, and it was time to make a choice.
So here I am, charts metaphorically spread before me, all other distractions gone. Those eight hours a day, plus an hour of driving, are now utilized exclusively for writing. I’ve started by doing some housekeeping on my personal blog, filling in the gaps of boat work and life in general. My posts here will once again get the time they deserve, and the remainder of those hours are for one thing and one thing alone – finishing my next book. I’ve got some distance to cover and some time to make up for, but I’m back to a known position, on course, and I have my destination in sight.
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