Writers constantly juggle deadlines, word counts, obligations, and self-care. Often we whine about it (at least I do). Often we shipwreck our own creativity. However, one of the best qualities of any writer is resilience.
Today, I'm taking you on a virtual journey to meet a writer named Anna McLean. She's writing a book about rowing 3000 miles across the Atlantic, based on her real experiences during a rowing contest with her brother, Cameron. The two of them faced many obstacles -- 60-foot waves, sharks, and illness. They handled their obstacles with MacGyver-like skill, using limited resources from their tiny rowboat in a competition called the Talisker Whiskey Challenge (2020).
Their journey offers great lessons about how mental outlook can sharpen a writer’s focus and inspire a wave of creativity.
Being tossed at sea can be a good metaphor for writers during these uncertain times but, despite our societal turmoil, we can refrain from spiraling into an emotional tailspin. As a break from the chatter diverting our writerly attention, I offer this post as a life-vest of analogy to lift your spirits.
A bit of backstory on the McLean "Seablings" (along with my thoughts in blue).
They began their voyage on the Canary Islands and rowed in constant 2-hour shifts until they reached Antigua 43 days later. Talk about work ethic! This puts my daily writing sprints into perspective as no one but my muse is waking me through the night to swab the deck.
Soon after launching, their navigation system broke. They steered with their feet until they were able to repair it themselves. The mechanical parts breaking would be my cosmic message to turn back to safe, dry, land. I can relate to that rudderless feeling, and the pull of self-pity and doubt.
Their water pump, which provided their allotted 500 milliliters of daily fresh water, also failed, jeopardizing both their health and their goal. Under those circumstances, I would have called for a water taxi and requested some iced tea.
Anna McLean faced real privation during the experience that led to her book.
Yes, she chose to enter the rowing contest. But she was forced into a level of action that few writers must endure in order to tell her story. Below are three quotes inspired by her incredible journey that might help re-energize your creative life.
1. “Teamwork is Dreamwork.”
The rowing pair used this mantra as their motivation and to avoid distractions that could set them off course. They worked as a team, communicating and accepting more of the workload when needed. Anna once rowed 36 hours without a break as her brother recovered from an injury. Cameron, in turn, rowed for three days when she could not get through her nausea.
They didn’t do it all alone. When times were exceptionally tough, they called one of their 70 supporters for encouragement and advice. Even in the open ocean our modern technology supports us in ways our predecessors only could imagine. How lucky we are to be a phone call away from others who can be the wind in our sails and keep our focus on our writing goals.
Close-to-home example of "Teamwork is Dreamwork."
I have seen examples of teammates stepping in at WITS in the past months as members, writers, and readers offer support. Our writers at WITS have suffered illness, loss of loved ones, and faced natural disasters with fires, floods, and deadly smoke levels in the last month. This blog couldn’t be the treasure trove of resources without the contributions of every writer.
The WITS team stepped in and wrote extra blog posts, writers switched days (and months!) while one writer healed from surgery and another was forced to deal with an insane COVID-world workload.
Writers work better as a team when a man is down. Like Anna and her brother, the WITS team finds a way and keeps this blog we all love afloat. We appreciate your readership and support! And I'm sending an “Aye, Matey” to the large team of contributors who provide invaluable weekly writing insights.
2. “Row to compete, not just to survive”
If the thought of spending 43 days in the open ocean conjures up nightmare stories like Life of Pi or of Tom Hanks in Castaway, you are not alone. The rowing pair agreed to see their circumstance as a competition to avoid the traps of disillusionment.
We may not feel we have the energy to move forward but when we dig deep and find that mini burst, it can jump-start our creativity and get more words on the page.
Even if writers compete primarily against themselves, the mindset of overcoming obstacles can help keep a project on course. Pushing the limits of word count and timelines, the market, the constantly changing climate of publication, the drive to create your perfect story, can all become worthy ‘foes’ to motivate you towards your goals.
Likewise, each of us has our own writing supports. (If you haven’t discovered yours - keep looking! Consider joining Nanowrimo, for example.) Writing supports are key to success as a writer. And don't forget to support yourself. Our biggest support can be the most powerful when it comes from within.
3. “What’s on your search engine?”
Anna shared advice she received to bolster the mental challenges of rowing 3000 miles of the Atlantic Ocean.
“Our minds are like a search engine - you type in a word and it gives you other words related to it. So, [on our journey] if we thought about positive things, that led to more positivity. Every day, I still think ‘what am I putting in my search bar?”
The McLean siblings broke a World Guinness Record traversing the ocean in a 24 x 4 foot boat. They returned to their Gloucestershire home in victory, but within a few weeks COVID 19 set them once again into confinement.
Anna now writes and does public speaking engagements via her computer. Some of her presentations have been shared with up to 6 different countries in one day. She's remaining positive about the perks of working without having to travel.
- Teamwork is dreamwork.
- Row to compete, not just to survive.
- What's on your search engine?
We all have stories inside us, dying to burst onto the page. But they can only come into being if we put our keyboards into action. Our proverbial rowboats are equipped to deliver our messages, but are we at the helm? Are we prepared for the realities that await in the depths of the sea we call publication?
What are your thoughts? Where are you today in your writing journey? Had you heard about Anna McLean? Share your insights, and hope you lift up some writer pals today.
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Kris Maze is an author, freelance writer, and teacher. She enjoys writing twisty, speculative fiction with character driven plots. After years of reading classic literature, mysteries, and thrillers, she started to write her own books. Her first dystopian sci-fi romance, IMPACT, was published in 2020.