It’s been a hundred years since the Titanic sank, and we’re still learning from it. When I viewed an exhibit on the disaster yesterday, I was struck by the tragedy, not only from the sheer amount of human suffering that occurred, but from the subtle lessons that applied to my writing life. Here’s my takeaway:
1. Overconfidence is a Bad Thing – Even with repeated iceberg warnings from other ships in the area, the Titanic captain chose to cruise, in the dark, at 21 knots–nearly top speed–toward his destination. I have no idea why, but I suspect it was because he, too, thought the Titanic was unsinkable and failed to exercise the same care and diligence he would have on a different ship. Now, when I feel like “This manuscript can’t possibly be improved!”, I’ll think back to the overconfident captain and remind myself that no ship (or book) is unsinkable.
2. Caring What Others Think Can Cost You – Hundreds of men neglected to get in life boats, even when spots were available, for fear that their peers would think them less manly. No one wanted to be branded a coward. I’m guilty of this myself. Seeking approval and needing to do things “the right way” or “within guideline” have only limited me as a writer. In the future, I promise to care less about what I should do, and more about what I could do. I have a feeling that my work will see an uptick in creativity.
3. Small Efforts May Not Be Enough – When the White Star Line sent a recovery ship to collect bodies, they found over three-hundred people bobbing in the water with their life vests on, seemingly asleep. They’d all died of hypothermia in the 28 degree (F) water. This was a grim reminder that even though these people had made a small effort to save their own lives, a much larger effort was needed earlier in the game. I’m not arm-chair quarterbacking these poor souls. I’m sure the chaos on board was pretty debilitating. But in applying this to my own life, my bottom line is this: why cling to a life vest when you could build a life raft? Don’t know about you, but I’m picking up my hammer and some wood…
4. People in the Trenches Hear The Biggest Thud – When first class survivors were interviewed, they remarked that they barely heard any noise at all when the Titanic struck the iceberg. A “dull thud,” some called it. When the lead fireman, who’d been working in the bowels of the ship, was interviewed, he said the moment of impact caused a deafening roar, as if lighting had struck the hull. What a difference in perspective! As someone in the trenches, I can tell you, my ears are ringing.
5. Decorum is Overrated – Someone, I can’t remember who (the cruise line director?) asked the orchestra to continue to play music on deck because it soothed the passengers and kept them calm while they boarded the lifeboats. The orchestra played and played, and when they were done, all the lifeboats were gone. As the ship began to submerge, the conductor lifted his baton to direct one…last…song because, well, there was nothing else they could do. Yikes. That one got me. Under no circumstances do I want to be the violinist in the third row, madly sawing my strings as the ship goes under. Why did the doomed orchestra stay? Decorum, perhaps? Well, quite frankly, to hell with decorum. I’m ready to make some noise.
Where will my career be in three months? Six months? A year? I’m not sure, but after taking these Titanic lessons to heart, I can tell you this: it won’t be underwater.
How about you? Any pearls of wisdom to impart on the business of writing? Did this strike the right chord with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!