Recently I returned from a ten-day mission to South America to sail with a ship that visits most ports in the world every five years, selling books. Not a vacation.

On the ship, communication is a very big deal. They don’t have time for excuses, there’s work to do.

Arrangements have to be made with port authorities, mayors, governors, even presidents of countries. Onshore visits. Cultural presentations. The crew, which volunteer on a rotating basis for two or more years, must know their jobs, including the mandatory publication of regular updates, keeping supporters in the know. Sometimes visitors come for a few months, or for a week or two; for them, dates of arrival and departure must be established, along with roles to be held, jobs to take on, payments made, vaccinations documented.

That last category describes me, and I would have loved to have just showed up, enjoyed the cruise, visited with old and new friends, and sat around.

Not happening.

I, too, had to communicate about my intentions—and subtlety was not an option.

In the heady environment of the ship’s company—they muster from more than 45 countries and therefore have different and fascinating perspectives—it was amazing to see how much my natural reticence vanished. My plans and intentions had to be stated, and my thoughts made plain. Even things that already seemed crystal clear.

There are very few secrets aboard.

But though I should have already learned how important it is to state the obvious from the eponymous chapter in Jack Bickham’s wonderfully concise and witty book The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, this valuable lesson I had to glean instead from this real-life experience.

And that’s not fiction.