Carol Newman Cronin is not your typical novelist. As a world-champion sailor and Olympian, her love of boating and the ocean deeply imbues her writing, which includes novels and short stories that share in common three elements: a coastal setting, boats and a happy ending. In this article, Cronin shares the discipline she has found useful to her writing process.

—∞—

Sailors might be better known for swearing than writing, but lately, I’ve been realizing how much my Olympic training helped me succeed as an author. Physically, the two skills couldn’t be more different; one demands constant movement, while the other involves mostly sitting (or standing) at a desk. There’s also a big difference in definitions of success. Winning a sailboat race means crossing the finish line ahead of the other boats. How do you “win” as an author?

For me, success means publishing books that readers find and enjoy enough to come back for more. And I never would’ve had the stamina and dedication to finish four novels if I hadn’t learned to write like I sail. So here are 3 tips that helped me “win” at writing. (We’ll get back to swearing at the end.)

1. Work with the day’s conditions

Sailboat races can be run in strong or light winds; on a tiny lake or in big ocean waves; through the cold driving New England rain or the dry heat of an Athens summer. Some days are as much a battle with the weather as a competition with other sailors. I definitely have my favorite conditions—but I still have to show up and compete on the other days, too. 

My writing is definitely affected by the weather; sunshine distracts me, while a rainy or snowy day makes me grateful for the comforting warmth of my office and the ability to imagine my way into a warmer scene. I’m also affected by more personal considerations, like how I slept the night before or how many other projects are vying for my attention that day. 

What I learned training for the Olympics is that matching goals to each day’s conditions will be the best use of limited time on the water. If it’s windy (not my best skill set), I might vow to improve my heavy air skills rather than setting an unrealistic performance goal. For writing, I might set a lower word count goal on sunny days—but I still force myself to do the work. Every day is an opportunity to make progress—even if it’s just honing more undervalued skills, like adapting to new realities and just plain showing up.

2. Training and a routine provide long-term benefits

Day after day of the same damned thing doesn’t sound like much fun, but it’s only by developing a routine and sticking to it that we make the incremental improvements that will stick with us in the long run. Muscle memory applies to our brains, too. Picture the difference in word count between a month’s worth of daily writing, and thirty days of waiting for inspiration to strike. Sometimes I feel like I’m just going through the motions, but words on a page are always better than no words. 

3. Win in your own way

One of the many things I love about both sailboat racing and writing is that so many different approaches can lead to success. We all approach our work differently, so it’s pointless to compare ourselves to other authors. And my best book is the one only I could write. 

As a dedicated pantser, I never know where my characters will take me. Lately I’ve realized that following my instincts rather than a strict outline serves me well as a sailor, too. Sailboat races are dependent on the weather, so we have to adjust on the fly to both schedule changes and shifty winds. Compared to that, what’s one character’s hard-headed inability to follow the plot I’ve devised? 

So that’s a little about how writing like a sailor has helped me succeed. As for swearing like a sailor? 

Sonofabitch, we’re out of time.


Cronin’s latest novel, Ferry to Cooperation Island, is the story of a former ferry captain who must join forces with someone he considers his arch-rival — the woman who took over his ferry run — to save an island’s pristine wilderness from private development. Learn more about the novel, released today, on Cronin’s website.


Carol Newman Cronin is an award-winning writer/editor, a world champion sailor and an Olympian. She is the author of four novels. Since 2009, she has also maintained a blog called Where Books Meet Boats. Cronin works out of her home office in Jamestown, RI, where she and her husband Paul spend as much time on the water as possible.