At the Starting Line: How Writing is Like Swimming

In high school, I was a swimmer on the varsity team. Not a very good swimmer. I wasn’t fast, I wasn’t a good sprinter, and I wasn’t even valuable to my team for long distance races. But I worked really hard to survive practice every day, sometimes twice a day on holidays, and I was in amazing shape. Sometimes I felt I could have kept swimming after practice, for hours longer (not with any kind of speed, mind you) but I could have kept plodding along, flip turning from one lap to the next. And at the end of practice, when I said I swam 6,000, 8,000, 10,000 yards? It was always impressive. I always felt accomplished, even if my times were :20 slower than people two lanes ahead of me.

I’ve always loved how when you jump in the pool the water fills your ears and suddenly, it is completely and only you. This was great when I was little, when mom told us it was time to pack up and go home, the obvious response was to hold your breath under water as long as physically possible. In high school, swim practices provided hours of private time to review my day. I didn’t even have to concentrate on where I was going because you always went from one side of the pool to the other and back again. Long drills that lasted an hour provided uninterrupted time where my body worked on stroke technique and my mind was completely free to wander. I was rarely stressed at the end of practice because I was: a) too tired; and b) had worked everything out, analyzed every moment to my satisfaction. The silence makes you pay extra attention to yourself, both mentally and physically. I think it would be so annoying to be a runner and have to listen to everything around me–which is why people listen to music I guess, but I think listening to music is annoying too, at least when I’m trying to focus. I much prefer silence during my thinking and writing time.

The first two weeks of the new year were dedicated to a few extraneous projects left over from the year before, stuff that needed to get done. But now, finally, I can jump into my writing season the way I jumped into swim season every year: with just the goals of surviving, getting in better (writing) shape, and having fun.

Yes, I have a business plan this year. Yes, I have word count goals and schedules and plans to write more than one book. But I’m getting rid of commitments that I hated dedicating time to last year, things that ate up my writing time–all that extraneous noise that was so distracting. I can’t wait to just dive under the waves and focus on the delicate plot constructions formulating in my head. I can’t wait to go to practice every day and get a little chunk done in my huge season’s goal.

I’m not planning on meeting you at the finish line,  because this year for me, with no deadlines except my own, it’s not a race. Everybody’s going to get to January 1st, 2014 at the exact same time; you can’t race to get there sooner.

I’ll see you at the end of the season.

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10 thoughts on “At the Starting Line: How Writing is Like Swimming

    • hannahkarena says:

      (Also, I actually really like listening to audiobooks while I’m on the treadmill, or even reading on my kindle so I can flip through pages easily. I probably look completely ridiculous trying to read a book and exercise at the same time, but it actually makes me go to the gym. I have to know what happens in the next chapter and I’m not allowed to listen/read unless I’m on that treadmill…and actually moving, haha.)

      • Gwen says:

        I do the same with my e-reader! Although I have a treadmill and elliptical in my basement, so I don’t need to worry about looking ridiculous!

      • hannahkarena says:

        Haha, I go to the neighborhood gym, so I think the regulars are getting used to me. I look a little less silly when I do the stationary bike, though, so that’s a plus.

  1. simonreadbooks says:

    Best of luck, Hannah, with your writing projects. I have a May 1 deadline with a British publisher and am actually really looking forward to taking a break from pen and paper! My goal this year is to catch up on my reading and movie watching!

    • hannahkarena says:

      Thanks Simon–best of luck with your deadline! Summer sounds like the perfect time to get a writing break. Lots of reading in the sunshine! (One of my favorite outdoor activities…haha)

  2. andreabadgley says:

    Swimming and writing go well together, as you’ve described here perfectly. I didn’t arrive at swimming until middle age, when I began racing triathlons and joined the masters swim team. Now I miss it 🙂 I love how you describe not having to worry about navigating the pool – just stroke and think in the quiet and the breath. Beautifully written – good luck with your writing and swimming this year.

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