On swimming & writing

I’ve blogged before about my love of- but not necessarily skill at- swimming, here and here.

Well this week I went for my first swim of the year, and by that I mean not only my first swim of 2016 but literally my first swim in almost a year.  I am usually a seasonal swimmer anyway, as the thought of leaving the house after dark in the winter months and voluntarily plunging into luke-warm water wearing nothing but a small amount of lyrca just seems, well wrong.  But I didn’t manage much swimming- or really anything at all- last summer on account of fostering a newborn baby, which left very little time for anything else.

So I was looking forward to getting back in the water, but I was also apprehensive- we have a new local pool so I’d never been before, I didn’t know how busy it would be, where the changing rooms were, I was worried I’d be so out of practice after my year of very little exercise that I’d get in and promptly drown.  But actually?  It was fine.

It was moderately busy, but I was able to swim up and down without getting in anyone’s way (or anyone getting in mine).  Yes there were people there swimming faster than me, and people with better technique, people who weren’t afraid to put their head under the water…but there were also parents with kids struggling to just stay afloat, an elderly man with his daughter practicing rehabilitation exercises, and a woman not much younger than me wearing armbands.  No one cared that my breaststroke was sloppy, or that I kept my head above water.  Everyone was too busy with their own stuff to notice how wide my thighs are or how long it took me to make it from one end of the pool to the other.

It’s no secret that I haven’t been writing much lately, here on the blog things are pretty quiet, and behind the scenes not much is happening either.  I told myself that this year would be the year I would finally DO SOMETHING with my writing, that is- start showing it to people other than my close friends and family, enter competitions, query the book I wrote in 2014 etc etc.  But it’s the middle of April and I haven’t done any of those things yet, and truth be told I’m not sure when I will.  I’ve been crippled with self doubt for weeks now, thinking that every word I put down is pure garbage, reading over the fourth (and so far, final) draft of my YA novel and thinking there’s not a chance in hell of it being published, holding back from the blog because I don’t know how to put my feelings into words, and because there are some things I don’t know if I’m ready to share.  I’ve been comparing myself to anyone and everyone, and always finding myself lacking- in skill, in accomplishments, in LIFE and EVERYTHING.

It’s been pretty shit basically.

I vowed to do Camp NaNoWriMo as a way to push myself to JUST GET WORDS DOWN and get a new project off the ground, but it backfired horribly when I realised I wasn’t 100% on the project and felt completely unqualified to write it.  For a couple of weeks I didn’t write anything, and I thought maybe that could be the answer- to just STOP.  For a while anyway, to not force it and hope that whatever was missing would come back, or whatever had gone wrong would somehow right itself.

But as I swam up and down the pool on Tuesday, I began to feel lighter.  Not just literally, but metaphorically too- does it really matter if my new WIP is a wobbly disaster?  Does it matter if only a handful of people visit this blog?  Does it matter if other people are getting agents and publishers and PHDs and I am scratching down vague notions in a Tesco Notepad?  Or does it only really matter that I do things because I enjoy them?  Like swimming…

I used to be able to swim between 40 and 50 lengths in an hour, so I was torn on Tuesday between setting my goal at 50 lengths or setting it at one hour.  And then I realised that what was important was that I’d got in the pool in the first place, and anything after that was just a bonus.  So I swam for an hour, in which time I managed 35 lengths.  I could have beat myself up about that- last year I could do 50, that guy over there must have done about twice that in half the time, I really need to synchronise my legs and arms better and try putting my face in etc etc etc.  But instead I thought how pleased I was to have made the time to go, how nice it was to try out the new pool, how pleasantly tired my limbs were on the way home, how glad I was that I learned to swim as a kid and how fortunate I am that my CIDP is so well managed that I actually physically CAN swim right now.

And it hit me, that I could apply that same mindset to my writing too.  Sure some people have a stack of writing qualifications, and have won prizes and secured book deals and have a billion followers on twitter and enough money in the bank to not need to worry.  But there are also people who can’t read or write, who wouldn’t know where to start coming up with an idea for a story or who are staring down the barrel of their first ever first draft.  There will always be people ahead of me in swimming- and in writing- and in life, and there will always be people behind.  And actually it’s not a race, and no one is keeping score.

Maybe it is good to take some time out now and again- if everything is frustrating and nothing is working and even trying is making you feel bad about yourself.  But in this case, I think I need to do the opposite- and just push through.  I abandoned my WIP (which was really just a character list, vague plan and a folder of research) and instead jumped on an idea I had a while back and just rolled with it- no planning, no thinking about target audiences or marketability or if it would be The Best Book Ever Written (it won’t).  Just writing.  Making words appear where there weren’t previously any words, and not beating myself up if those words are a bit naff at times, and what do you know- I now have 2500 of them, and my aim is to get enough of them (probably about 10,000) to know whether this is something worth throwing myself into and that’s IT.  My aim is not to have a polished MS by the end of the year or to have an agent by my next birthday, it is just to write.

I thought having clear goals this year with my writing- like entering a short story competition or sending my first query letter would help me feel focused, and truth be told help me justify the vast swathes of time I spend writing when I could (and sometimes should) be doing something else.  But actually it paralysed me with fear, so for now I’m sticking to VAGUE and trying to remember that it doesn’t matter if I am never the Best Swimmer or the Best Writer in the world, and that’s good because I never will be either- it only matters that I don’t let my lack of confidence stop me from doing things I love.