So what does swimming in lakes and rivers have to do with writing?
The fact is, whenever I’m struggling with a story, a quick dip never fails to get things moving again. Sometimes I think that’s because wild swimming is such an overwhelmingly sensual experience. It’s a whole body touch, sometimes bracingly, oh-my-God-I’m-going-to-die cold, sometimes almost decadently warm. The water, your whole world, smells and tastes sweet. Hear the slap and trickle of water on the move, then duck your head beneath the surface to hear in the wet-noise the squeak-speak of stones disturbed, or the eternally optimistic quacking of a foraging duck.
The senses come alive. I start to think about how my characters feel in different settings, how their senses are engaged. What sound conjures a childhood holiday? Which scent makes them think of past loves?
Then, of course, there is The Fear.
Most outdoor swimmers have encountered the breath-stealing moment of deep water fear. That horrible, there’s-something-down-there terror that can be sparked by a shadow, a twig… almost anything. I get it nearly every time I go out of my depth, especially when I can’t see the bottom (rare in Lakeland’s crystal clear waters). You have to push through it, breathe deep, conquer the moment. Swim on.
You think, “can I do this?” and you have to tell yourself that you can.
Just like when you’re not sure you can carry off that difficult plot point or when you wonder if this new genre is a good choice for you. When you know that as long as you don’t submit a manuscript, you can’t be rejected by a publisher.
When those moments come, whether you’re deep in writer’s doubt, or shivering on the edge of Blackmoss Pot in Langstrath Beck, you simply have to swim on.