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A Tour of My Writing Mind and Some News

Lulu, the ultimate writing distraction

Back when we were living in Auckland last January, I had a webpage open on my laptop. My finger was poised above my touchpad, nearly ready to click. The button the little white finger on my screen hovered over read: “Click here if you accept our offer of admission for the three years of hell that is nursing school” or something like that.

Just then, I saw a new email had arrived. I hesitated. I clicked over to my Gmail tab to read the message. It was from my friend, Michael Robertson. He had sent it to me and another cruising friend, Behan Gifford. In it, Michael wrote he had overdosed on chocolate covered espresso beans the night before during his watch. While he had since recovered, one of the delusional thoughts that had entered his brain the previous night remained when morning finally arrived. He explained his wild-haired idea to us as best he could. Did we think we could do it?

I promptly forgot about clicking that button for nursing school. I finally admitted to myself that while it will likely not bring fame, or money, but rather back spasms, tears, and frustration, this was the sign I was looking for. That I should do what I’ve always wanted, which is just to write stuff for other people to read and hopefully change something tiny about the world. Because while at the end of a full day of writing my wrists are kinked and my brain is sore, looking at those words on the page brings such personal fulfillment and joy. And then utter defeat, because they all suck and will need to be changed the next day.

Behan nominated me to answer a few questions for a writer’s blog tour that’s going around. I won’t nominate anyone else, because I don’t want to stress anyone out, but if you want to answer the questions on your own blog, do let me know and I’ll add a link.


What am I currently working on?

The project Michael envisioned while high on espresso beans is quickly coming to fruition: the three of us are coauthoring a book we’re calling Voyaging With Kids, a Guide to Family Life Afloat. It’s the book we all wished we’d had when we first cast off years ago. The book will be published by L&L Pardey Books when it’s completed. Our mission is to draft a guide as complete and up-to-date with as many differing viewpoints as possible with all the aspects of sail or power cruising with kids we can think of: from choosing a boat, homeschooling, laundry, health care, babies, teens, relationship issues, swallowing the anchor, and much more.

While this project is quickly hurtling towards deadline, I’ve also decided to write a novel as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). It’s like the marathon of the writing world. What seems to be developing before my bleary eyes is a middle grade (for 9-12s) fiction book. It involves a sailboat and a tropical island and cute boys, natch. I honestly have no idea what will come of these particular words, but I am having a hoot writing them down. I’ve also learned what it feels like to sit down and write when I swear I have nothing to say because in order to “win” NaNoWriMo (i.e. get 50K words down by November 30th) I have to average 1,667 words a day. I’ve discovered that once I sit down, fingers poised over the keyboard, a story clue will pop out of nowhere in an hour or two. I’ll start typing then and be off and away in my own invented world where I have very little control over my imaginary people for a few hours. It’s really, really fun.


How does my work differ from others in my genre?

Since I’m not really sure what my genre is, I have no idea. I like to keep it real, I like to tell stories, I like to make people feel like they are not alone. But that’s not all that different from other writers, is it? I’m still discovering what my genre is, but while I’m enjoying my non-fiction and various freelance writing projects, I’ve always been a lover of fiction and have a strong feeling that’s where I’m going to spend my writing time in the future. Maybe.


PegaLeah, age 5Why do I write what I do?

So here’s why I decided to do NaNoWriMo at the last minute this year: Leah, at nearly 9, is having a world of trouble finding books that she likes. She’s a voracious reader, but she hates books about “stupid” girls like you find in “Dork Diaries,” and “stupid pony books” [she also hates being reminded that she was a pony from the ages of 4 to 5.] Her favorite characters are Coraline from “Coraline” and Violet from “A Series of Unfortunate Events” but she really prefers humor and adventure, over the  horror-for-children genre that seems to be popular. But check out this list of the most popular middle grade books: how many of those feature strong pre-teen girl characters? After struggling to find books featuring likeable, strong girls at her 7th-grade reading level but 9-year-old maturity, I thought what the heck? I’ll write a book for Leah. I’m not sure I’m succeeding at that, but I’m definitely learning a lot about writing in the process.

Voyaging With Kids follows a similar reasoning: the cruising world needs it, it will help people, we want to write it, so off we go. I’m loving writing this book too, except it makes me want to pack my swimsuit and jandals in a bag and fly back to my lonely boat. (But I just double-checked my piggy bank. Still empty except for a few paʻanga rolling around in there.)


How does my writing process work?

I sit down in a chair and I type on my laptop. Sometimes I just stay in bed in my jammies, or sit on the couch with my feet up on a bean bag. It’s a hard life. I’m drinking a lot of coffee lately (but maybe that’s because it’s dark by 4:30?)

Even if I manage to cobble down some notes or an outline, what I usually write is totally different. I don’t use notebooks. I’ve tried. I’ve got stacks of empty notebooks, both pretty and plain. Instead, I use Evernote since I can access notes on my phone and any computer I’m using. For coauthoring, we are using Word and Dropbox. For my fiction projects, I’m using Scrivener; it’s an amazing program for organizing all the bits and pieces that come out of thin air and maybe even into your brain someday.


  1. Bob Hancy says:

    I so look forward to your writing Sara ~ and even more so because we are both fellow NaNoWriMo participants! Thank you for your writing – your discipline of posting, your photos and the joy you bring my girlfriend and I. I was sad when you sold your boat though, very sad indeed, but we must do what we must do sometimes.

    I sit here almost where you bought your boat so many years ago in Saint Helens, Oregon, and often think of all of the wonderful adventures you and your family have had – truly amazing. While I don’t have kids, I do look forward to your book. Be well, be safe, and…keep writing. 🙂

    Your friend,


    1. Sara says:

      It’s great to hear from you Bob! My NaNo project seems to be winding down at 35K words, which is good for a MG book. So I won’t officially “win” but what a great experience doing NaNoWriMo for the first time!

      Wondertime’s not sold…yet. 😉 We are really looking forward to having a smaller boat to do more PNW cruising in. It’s so glorious up here and we’re glad to be home. My current dream is to figure out how to spend each summer cruising BC/Alaska, then cozy up in front of our pellet stove all winter — especially while the girls still want to hang out with us.

      Best of luck to you in NaNoWriMo!

  2. I love that you’re writing a book for Leah. I understand completely your frustration at the dearth of strong female characters appropriate to your daughter’s reading level…that is exactly our experience currently. I’ll be in line to buy the first edition!

    1. Sara says:

      Thanks Behan! If I ever get these jumble of words edited into something coherent (ahem, next March?) I know who my beta readers will be. 😉

  3. Deb Lease says:

    Hi, Sara!

    I’ve been following your site for a long time, and have been super-in-love with your little ketch since the first time I saw it. Our own family is preparing to head out into cruising land in spring 2016, and your blog, along with Behan’s and Michael’s, have been hugely important resources for our family. Finally I have a chance to give back!!

    When I’m not trying to decide if we want to add a solent stay to our Beneteau First 38, I’m generally scouring the internet for book ideas for our voracious 9-year-old reader. She reads at a very high level–depending on which evil school assessment you choose to believe–but, you know, she’s NINE, so we’ve spent a lot of time consulting with our children’s librarian friends for compelling books. Here are some of our favorites:

    The Wee Free Men, by Terry Prachett. Best family read-aloud ever; it bogs down towards the end, but Tiffany Aching is one of the strongest female leads in literature since Elizabeth Bennet, and the pictsies are hilarious. It’s lead to a Prachett binge throughout the house.

    Matlida, Dahl, obviously.

    The Scavengers, Michael Perry–one of my favorite authors, who also wanted to write a book with a strong female lead for his daughters

    The Penderwicks, Birdsall

    Moon over Manifest, Vanderpool

    The Apothecary, Meile Maloy–and you should read her adult books

    The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Speare

    Juniper, Furlong

    Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, O’Brien

    The Higher Power of Lucky, Patron

    The Stolen Lake, Aiken

    Flora and Ulysses, DiCamillo

    The Cabinet of Earths, Nesbet

    The Sisters Grimm series (maybe a little dark, but my daughter tore through them)

    The Alanna Series by Tamora Pierce–probably a little old for your kiddos; my daughter’s almost 10, and there’s some body stuff in there, but keep it in the queue; also her Circle of Magic books

    The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Kelly

    Ella Enchanted, Levine

    The Glass Sentence, S.E. Grove–fascinating sci-fi based on maps

    The Secret of Platform 13, Ibbotson

    Journey, Becker

    And of course Madeline L’Engle, but you have to save that for the perfect moment to make sure she loves them all for ever, right?

    Not necessarily strong female leads, but books she enjoyed:
    Rumo and his Miraculous Adventures, Moers

    The Phantom Tollbooth, Juster

    The Mysterious Benedict Society series

    The Boundless, Oppel

    The Name of This Book is Secret, Bosch

    And all the usual suspects–Narnia, Borrowers, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, Percy Jackson and our friend Pippi.

    Graphic Novels with strong female leads–
    Zita the Spacegirl series, Hatke
    Amulet series, Kibuish
    Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Pearson
    Rapunzel’s Revenge, Hale
    Raina Telgemeier’s books
    And check out the website http://noflyingnotights.com

    I’d also look at Polly Horvath; she writes from your neck of the woods, and we find her very funny. And check out these guys: http://ccbc.education.wisc.edu; they’re down the street from us in Madison, WI, and have the most comprehensive list of links for kids’ books anywhere in the land, as well as specific suggestions by topic/age.

    Happy reading, and thanks for putting together such a great blog!

    1. Sara says:

      What a fantastic list Deb! Thank you so much! Leah loves graphic novels so I’ll definitely look for those. She (and I) just finished reading Flora & Ulysses and loved it. (A superhero squirrel!) Other books I’m reminded of by your list are the Clementine books (Sara Pennypacker), The 13-Storey Treehouse & sequels (Andy Griffiths), and someone reminded me the other day about Harriet the Spy!

      I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the blog and found it helpful! Wondertime is a darling boat, we miss her. Best of luck with your own preparations, such an exciting time!

      1. Deb Lease says:

        Yes! Harriet! A book I appreciate so much more after having lived in NYC. Ditto for The Mixed-Up Files. And I can’t believe I forgot about The Expeditioners–two books by S. S. Taylor.

  4. Stacey says:

    Has your daughter tried to read any of the Nancy Drew series of books. I was a voracious reader myself, and at about that age when I got into Nancy Drew. I hated the stupid girl books, and the childish pony/the boys hate me/puberty topics that were popular at that time. I loved adventure books, and Nancy Drew did it for me. I think I read about 20 of them in a row until I was ready to move on to something. Maybe she’d be interested in trying them out?

  5. Lauren Smith says:

    Love this! So happy that you are getting to do something you love. Big hugs from the both of us.

  6. Mark says:

    Thank you for the blog.
    Like you we are cruising and I love writing anything. The blog, bits and pieces here and there and now I am 30,000 words into a crime thriller. It is always something I have wanted to do so I thought I would give it a go.
    It is good to read how others write. Although I love writing I have never had the confidence in it to submit anything to a magazine or anywhere else.
    Maybe one day but your writing inspires me to do so.

  7. If I’m not mistaken, J.K. Rowling started writing so her kids would have something to read…just sayin’

  8. Hello Sara! I’m a new visitor to your site and happy to have stumbled upon it, though it surprises me I haven’t found you before now. I am so glad that you are and will be writing post-adventure. There are so many great sailing blogs where people just kind of…disappear. And for me, the blogs I love most I love not because of the grand adventure necessarily, but because of the interesting people and stories and perspectives. I love the writers, not their boats or their itinerary (though I do also enjoy those aspects). I look forward to stepping into the time machine and going back to the beginning of your journey.

    All the best,