September 1

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The Writing of “Leaving the Safe Harbor” with Tanya Hackney

By Boni Wagner-Stafford

September 1, 2021

#authors, #books, #indieauthors, #nonfiction, #Writing

For most of us, the idea of leaving the safe harbour has a figurative meaning: moving out of our comfort zone and doing something we never thought possible. Then there are those for whom leaving the safe harbour has a more literal sense: embarking on a voyage that can be full of peril and difficulty but can also bring sunny days on exotic shores.

Tanya Hackney Author Photo

Tanya Hackney is one of the few people who know about leaving the safe harbour in both the figurative and literal sense: so much so that she’s written a book about it.

Tanya started her journey as a writer when, at the age of six, she wrote and illustrated her first book. She went on to study creative writing and during the summer between her junior and senior year in college, she attended the prestigious Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College in Vermont. In 2008, she started a blog which she continues to maintain, and now she has written and published her first book.

We spoke to Tanya on the Empowered Author Podcast, which you can listen to right here. (Also find us on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or your favourite podcast app — subscribe so you don’t miss an episode, and like and review to help others find us.)

Leaving the Safe Harbor: The Risks and Rewards of Raising a Family on a Boat, published by Ingenium Books, is the account of how Tanya, her husband Jay and their young children figuratively left the safe harbour of suburbia and literally embarked on a voyage.

Hollywood Hackney

Bored by the American Dream

Tanya and Jay were living the American dream but were bored by it. As Tanya explains, she read a story about a woman who was killed when a tree fell on her as she was feeding pigeons at a park.

“My goodness,” she thought. “You could do everything right: you could live in the safe suburban neighbourhood and have the husband and the children and the life that you dreamed of. And then you could be sitting in the park one day and a tree falls on you. … Will I have any regrets? What haven’t I done that I’d like to do? Because I should probably get busy doing it.”

The Illusion of Safety


Realizing that safety is really just an illusion prompted Tanya and Jay to pursue the dreams of their youth: they fell in love as teenagers, one Florida summer when Jay was sanding his dad’s boat. They had this idea of one day buying a boat of their own and sailing away.

And that’s just what they did: they moved back to Florida, bought a small sailboat, learned to sail, and eventually bought a 48-foot catamaran. By then, they had four children, ranging in age from a year and a half to six.  

Testing the Waters


The first big voyage was one of learning how to live on a boat, complete with the challenges of having to make your own power and water. And then Tanya and Jay got pregnant again. They returned to Florida in time for the birth and then promptly brought their newborn daughter onto the boat. In case you’re counting, that makes five children.

Raising Kids, Homeschooling, and Writing on a Boat

In the ten years since, Tanya continued to write. It has been a challenge. After all, she was raising and homeschooling five children while having to take care of the day-to-day work: from baking bread in the kitchen galley to washing the baby’s cloth diapers. 

Tanya admits that she sometimes dropped the ball. As a coping strategy, she and Jay made a point of finding time for each other, without the kids interrupting, and gave each other permission to take a night off.

The focused self-care time became Tanya’s writing time when she wasn’t spending it kayaking or reading. This was when she’d work on her blog about life on the boat. When she shared one particular blog post with Jay, he said that it seemed more like the beginning of a book. So Tanya didn’t post that entry and tucked it away. Then, in 2017, she left the figurative safe harbour once again: she started working on that book in earnest.

Nautical Narrative Structure

The structure of the book uses nautical idioms as frameworks for life lessons. For instance, one chapter discusses ships passing in the night. When you live on a boat, ships often literally pass in the night, with a wave and a brief talk on the radio and then lights disappearing in opposite directions. For Tanya, this became a metaphor for friendships with other sailing families: finding fellowship for a day or two as voyages overlap and then going in different directions.

Another chapter is called “Batten Down the Hatches.” It’s about actual storms at sea and how to prepare for them. But it’s also about how we prepare for trouble and find ways to weather the storm.

Tanya has artfully woven the literal and figurative meanings of the idioms, which means her book will appeal to an audience broader than simply people who want to live on a boat, or raise a family on a boat. It is designed to appeal to anyone not willing to settle for ordinary, and to inspire them to take the risks and reap the rewards.

The Writing Process

Tanya’s writing process took some time. At first, she wrote five chapters and an outline for the rest, revisiting the manuscript from time to time. In 2019, after traveling the Caribbean, she committed to finishing the book: the rough draft took a year and then Tanya spent another year revising and rewriting.

When she felt she had taken it as far as she could, she had a paper copy printed and spiral bound. She then set it aside to just bask in the sense of accomplishment. This helped her let go emotionally so that, with the help of the professionals at hybrid publisher Ingenium Books, she could focus on improving the manuscript and turn it into a readable, sellable book.   

Advice to Authors

Tanya’s advice to other authors is to set a finish date and then find a writing buddy: someone else who’s trying to finish a book. Together, you commit to writing a certain number of words per day, having a weekly meeting to discuss your work and giving each other feedback. Because this makes you accountable, it helps you focus on finishing the book. It’s also immensely valuable to find readers who can give you feedback on what you’ve written and help steer you through the uncharted waters of publishing.     

Recognition for Leaving the Safe Harbor

While the official launch date for Leaving the Safe Harbor is set for October 30, 2021, Tanya Hackney’s book has already received Honorable Mention in the Biography/Autobiography category of the Hollywood Book Festival Awards 2021.

Leaving the Safe Harbor is available for preorder here.

Advance reader review copies can be requested here.

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