Celestial navigation

The AWP Conference in Washington, D.C., last month (was it really a month ago?) gave me the opportunity to meet up with John Cochran, a fellow staffer at the News & Record during my time there, later reporter at the Congressional Quarterly.

We chatted about our novels-in-progress - not one but two for him! - over breakfast in the wonderful Omni Shoreham. A good bit of the conversation concerned that eternal problem for the writer: Is this any good?

Today he posted this great comment on Facebook: "I was talking to a friend and former boss not long ago about the difference between news writing and fiction writing. Here's how he put it: Daily journalism is like sailing around a harbor or a bay, within sight of land; fiction writing is like navigating in open waters with nothing but the stars and wind to guide you."

Such an apt analogy! News writing nearly always provides you with buoys and lighthouses and channel markers in abundance. We have information, know how to get more information, and then how to structure it into an acceptable, standard news article.

But writing a poem or short story or novel is another thing entirely. We have cobbled-up, fragmentary charts - something of our own lives, things overheard, things read, dreams, imagined conversations, memories, doppelganger places. We know a direction - a star to steer by. And we have our need to write filling the sails.

So off we go.

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