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  • Writer's pictureDebra Stang

What the Titanic Can Teach You about Your Writing Career

On April 14, 1912, at 11:35 p.m., the largest ship in the world steamed swiftly through the eerily calm waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Although she had received several warnings about nearby ice, the Titanic had not reduced her speed.

She was nearly on top of the iceberg when one of the men in the lookout tower spotted it and warned the bridge. The first officer slowed the massive ship as much as he could and swerved to avoid a collision, but it was too late.

The Titanic scraped along the berg, suffering a rip in her side that flooded five of the water tight compartments. The "unsinkable" ship had not been built to survive a wound like that.

The Titanic sank on April 15, 2012. Of the 2200 people aboard, approximately 1500 perished. The sinking of the Titanic is still considered one of the world's greatest maritime disasters.

So, why am I so fascinated by a ship that's been at the bottom of the ocean for over a hundred years? Because that ship taught me some valuable lessons about writing.

Beware of Calm Waters

If the sea had been rough on the night of April 14, the men in the lookout tower would have seen waves breaking against the iceberg in plenty of time to avoid a collision. Most people look to achieve a sense of smooth sailing in their own lives, but smooth sailing can make us oblivious to the icebergs that lie in wait for all of us.

You'll be far more likely to see danger well ahead of time if you fight off complacency, push your comfort zone, and shake the waters up a bit. Of course, you don't want to spend all your days living in fear, but there's nothing wrong with maintaining a sense of watchful eagerness and excitement.

Pay Attention to Ice Warnings

Some legends suggest that the Titanic's captain gave the order to increase the ship's speed even as he held an ice warning from another ship in his hand. I've seen freelance writers to the same thing. A deal sounds too good to be true, so they Google it and get a million hits on scams run by the potential employer.

Then, holding the warnings in their hands, so to speak, they jump on board with the unsavory client, and the rest is history.

We freelance writers tend to be a fairly close group and are quick to warn others about clients pay late, pay less than they promised, or don't pay at all. The ice warnings are just one click of the search engine away. Ignore them at your peril.

Deal with Problems Head-On 

Years ago, I read an article that an engineer had written about Titanic. He theorized that her biggest mistake had been trying to avoid the problem. If she had slammed into that iceberg head-on, she probably would have remained afloat, at least long enough for other ships to arrive to rescue the passengers.

Yes, the officer who made the decision to collide head-on would have had to deal with plenty of fallout. Some lives would have been lost as a result of such a terrible accident. He might have been considered incompetent to go nose-to-nose with an iceberg, but in the end, he would have saved the ship and hundreds of people along with it.

A few weeks ago, I had a Titanic experience. A former client of mine returned and wanted me to do some writing for him. The only problem was that the pay was less than a quarter of what I now charge for projects of that scope. I tried to duck and side-step the issue every way I could so as not to create bad feelings. After days of agonizing, I solved the problem by simply emailing him a copy of my new rate structure.

As it turned out, he could not afford to work with me, but he wasn't offended or upset. He said he appreciated the honesty and would pass my name on to other people who might need the services of a freelancer. Problem solved, ship afloat, life intact.

Think about your own problem-solving experiences. What would happen if you stopped trying to side-step the issue and instead faced it squarely?

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