The best question a fourth grader ever asked me

“Which do you like better, sailing or writing?”

The kid was part of an eager group I spoke to at a local school, to support the use of Oliver’s Surprise in their history curriculum. I tossed him an off the cuff answer: “I like sailing in the summer and writing in the winter,” which didn’t really satisfy either of us. And the answer I came up with a moment later, “My favorite thing is writing about sailing,” was too late and too trite. I’d really never thought to compare the two skills before.

Sailing (especially the small-boat racing I do) rewards fast reaction time; blink and the opportunity is gone. Often it only becomes apparent minutes later how expensive one bad decision was. That’s why we all enjoy rehashing races at the end of the day, with others who were struggling to react to the same clues. It’s the only chance we get to think over what we did or didn’t do, what worked and what didn’t.

The best races seem effortless, but they are actually a series of snap decisions based on instinct. There’s no time to revise your first thought, no room for hesitation, and no place like the right time. On days when your instincts line up with the conditions, sailing is like shooting baskets with an invisible piece of shockcord between basket and ball—there’s no place it can go but in.

Writing is like shooting baskets with your eyes closed, surrounded by plate glass windows. Until you know where the story is going, you can’t make any decisions—you just have to keep writing and hope you don’t break anything. Then, when you’re “finished”, the real work of editing begins.

And that’s the true joy of writing, for me; aligning the details and eliminating the dead weight to drag out the story that was waiting, patiently, for me to dig down and find it.

So which do I like better? Hmm, I’m going to have to get back to you on that.