I realized today that writing a book is a lot like building a sailboat. And they’re both just as rewarding.
You start with an idea, the vague image of what you want to make. A sweeping line of a bow, or an impressive vista of an unimagined world. Then, you start looking for the details, the things you need to build upon. You search through lists of boat plans, or write snippets and bits of stories, until the details are fixed in your mind.
Then, you start writing, building the bones of your story, cutting the beams of your keel and ribs. These have to be strong, tough, well-shaped, so that the planks lay right and the paragraphs bring out the right emotions. A weak rib can give way when grounded, opening a devastating leak. A fragile plot-element can break, opening up disbelief and incongruity. Build your frame well.
Then, you plank your vessel, covering over the ribs and keel. The fine descriptions and clever dialogue disguise the elements of your story, allowing them to be seen, but never obvious. You go over them, again and again, checking for a place where the words seem stilted or the planks are warped. These places can be left, un-repaired, but they will be obvious, a sore spot for sailor and reader.
Then, you sand away the defects, filling where needed. The planks become smooth, neatly curved, and the paragraphs and sentences begin to roll off the tongue. Finished with this, you paint, adding the last coat of glossy. If you did a good job, the planks shine and the words sound even better than they did before. Then, you test it. The boat goes into the water, hopefully sliding through the water without mishap, and the book is mailed to an agent, with luck, to be instantly accepted.
Then, you haul her out of the water, checking over the manuscript, to fix the last little problems. You lower her one last time into the water, watching the books clunk onto the shelves. Then, you hoist the sails, fire up your social abilities, to drive her merrily on her perilous voyage.
Vaya con dios…boat-book!