Wednesday, February 25, 2009

What I think about when I'm swimming

I spent most of the last year and a bit writing a novel. To stop myself contracting that well-known condition 'writer's arse', I made myself go swimming twice a week, a quick(ish) twenty lengths at Wednesday lunchtime, and thirty lengths (going up to forty lengths more recently) on Saturday morning. That's not a lot of exercise, I know, but more than I have done for a long time. And I am not a strong swimmer, nor a technically proficient one. My breaststroke is ragged and my front crawl raggeder.

I admit that I didn't always manage both of my twice-weekly swims. The mid-week lunchtime session was the one in most danger of being dropped, especially as I approached the end of the novel, and the deadline. Sometimes, I just couldn't allow myself the time away from my desk.

As I swam I often thought about the book I was working on. Not in any useful way. I did not attempt to resolve any tricky plot issues, or sketch scenes in my head. No point really, as I wouldn't have been able to jot down any good ideas that came to me. It's hard to swim with a notebook in one hand.

No, I would just think about the process of writing, and I would carry with me a sense of where I was in the writing of the book, and somehow I would relate that to the act of swimming. So that it almost felt like I was swimming my book.

I would always compare where I was in the writing, how far I was from the end, to where I was in the day's swim, and how far I was from my target number of lengths. When I was more or less halfway in the book, I would get a special sense of harmony with myself when I hit the mid-point of my swim.

My ability to finish the lengths I set myself encouraged me to believe that I would be able to finish the novel.

Now I'm working on the edits of my novel, and there isn't really any analogous phase in a swimming session; except perhaps if I swam an extra length or two after I'd reached the day's target.

I confess I nearly didn't make it to the pool today. My desire to just get the edits done nearly won out. The fact is, I don't really enjoy swimming. It's the same kind of drudgery as writing a novel.

What I enjoy more than swimming is having swum. In the same way, I suppose, I find having written far more satisfying than writing.

And yet I am determined to persevere in both.


Rachael King said...

I'm amazed that you can think when you are swimming. I am concentrating so hard on my breathing technique that I can't just zone out and daydream like I can when I'm walking or running. Which is why I don't swim - I get bored. While I can day dream for hours (or think about my novel) while walking, after about 10 minutes of swimming I'm sick of it and need to get out.

On the other hand, my exercise of choice at the moment is swing dancing, which definitely engages your brain, but it is so much fun I never get bored of it. I'm certainly not solving all my novel's problems while I'm doing that though!

Samantha Tonge said...

Roger, i do exactly the same, 30 lengths at lunchtime a couple of times a week. I really find i can troubleshoot whilst i'm swimming and i've come up with a few plot-twists whilst kicking up and down the pool.

I've always felt such swimming shows stamina and is one reason i can finish a novel.

NOt sure what the swimming equivalent of getting published is, though;)


CarolineG said...

I love the idea of 'swimming the novel'!

My equivalent is walking fast, although I am increasingly finding I need a pen and paper in front of me to even enter that writing zone..

[Just found this via the WW blog page, Roger. Never seen it before. Good blog!]

Jamie said...

I'm not much for being immersed in water, but I do exercise and run to ward off writer's arse. I'm currently training for a half-marathon.

It's cyclical for me. Sometimes physical activity all is tangled up with my writing process and other times, it's one thing I do to get away from it. That and pluck my eyebrows.

Matt Curran said...

Hi, Roger

I've started to do a similar thing, though like Jamie, I tend to go for a run or a hike somewhere in the Peaks.

Stephen King used to do the same thing - though this habit was curtailed by a lunatic driver who thought the grass verge was part of the road.

I guess with swimming you should be a bit safer, though...