Why Writing a Novel is Like Swimming a Mile

While I’ve been able to swim a few lengths of a pool, kind of, for many years, I started taking swimming lessons nearly two years ago. It soon became apparent that my technique was awful and I’ve been steadily learning and improving ever since.

One area I’ve really improved on in the past six months is the total number of lengths I can swim in a session. It went up from 10 or 12 and reached 18, which is a quarter of a mile. From that point I built up to half a mile, three-quarters of a mile (54 lengths) and reached 58 lengths a couple of times. The next big target was a mile – 72 lengths. A few weeks ago I managed it – jumping from 58 to 72 lengths in one lesson. The feeling was amazing and I was grinning all week.

So what does this have to do with writing a novel? Well, the next week I went back and knew that I could swim a mile, so now I felt like I should swim a mile. 72 lengths is a lot of swimming, though. The first few lengths went easily enough, warming up and doing the main lesson, but then I found myself on about 12 lengths when it was time to just swim.

That meant I had 60 more lengths to go! It seemed like a huge amount and the weight of it robbed me of my energy. There was no way I could possibly swim that many lengths. Why bother? I often hit the same stage when writing a novel. Wanderer – Tainted Universe is around 130,000 words and Wanderer – Origins is just over 140,000 words. When I picked book five up again it was on around 15,000 words. The thought of getting from there to the end, and the months of writing it would take, felt like lifting a huge weight.

And because of that I couldn’t get to grips with it. I wrote a little but I kept finding excuses to do other things instead. The story felt heavy because I knew where it would end up. The spark wasn’t there, and from experience I know that means the writing wouldn’t be as good as I wanted it to be.

Back to swimming. The week after I’d swum a mile I was struggling until I put the total number of lengths aside. I got into a rhythm of two lengths front crawl, three lengths breast stroke, and I concentrated on much smaller targets. Reaching 18 lengths (a quarter of a mile). Reaching 20, then 30, then 36 (half a mile), then 40 and so on. Once I did that the lengths just flew by. I’d decided I wasn’t going to make a mile because I wouldn’t have enough time, so I relaxed. Strangely, that let me swim faster. By the end of the session I’d not only reached a mile, I’d swum an extra 4 lengths on top of that.

I’ve done something similar for Wanderer book five. Instead of worrying about the entire thing I’m just focusing on the next couple of chapters, on what will happen, and I’m letting the story take its own course unless it clashes with the end I’ve got in mind. And it works. I’m writing a battle scene involving Jess and the Wanderer right now and I’m loving it. The spark is back, the writing feels great and I know roughly where the next chapter or two are going. After that I have a rough framework but there’s sure to be surprises, and I can’t wait to find out what they are.

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