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.