3 Ways Writing is Like Swimming

My daughter likes to swim. She started swimming at age 3, was on her first swim team at 6. She has been on a swim team every summer for 4 years.

In order to compete in swimming, you need 3 skills: form, speed, and stamina.

Turns out, you need those same 3 skills if you want to compete in writing, too.


In swimming, getting your body to form the right patterns in the water is vital. If you perform the strokes correctly, if your body parts all work in perfect sync, you go faster with less effort.

Writing is similar. Our craft is our form, and the sooner we master the elements, the smoother our writing process becomes. As we get the myriad craft elements from structure to grammar to work in sync, the stories flow faster and with less effort.


Efficiency of form helps you cut through the water faster, so you increase your speed. You can’t win if you are slow. However, swimming is not just about beating the other people.  It’s also about personal bests, competing with yourself and trying to lower your times every time you compete.

Writing efficiency will help you compete in the publishing trenches, because you can put more work out more quickly. This does not mean you need to be a speed demon in writing. I am not, and other successful writers are not. Some are. But you can’t focus on other people’s speed. All you can do is hone your process so you can write efficiently without losing quality in your work. You are always looking for a personal best.


Competitive swimming requires endurance. When my daughter started swimming, her first races were more a matter if she would make it the full 25 meters without having to stop. Now, at age 10, the freestyle is 50 meters and the other strokes are still 25. But next year they all go up to 50 meters. That will require building stamina (and mastering how to turn).

A writing career is a long-haul career. Success usually does not come early or quickly. And if you write novel-length books, each project can be a marathon in itself. We need to cultivate creative and emotional stamina to get us through. There are many paths to success, so we need to master turning when one route is blocked. Sometimes our muscles hurt and we can barely catch our breath, but if we persevere we will eventually touch the wall.

Whether we write for fun or for profit, all writers share the joy and passion for writing. But for those who do want to publish, we also need to develop form, speed, and stamina.

Once we do, we can swim with the best of them.

Devaluing Ourselves

Humans are strange beings. We are forever envying what other people can do. Whether it is another writer’s success or that mom who always seems to have it all together, we always find something we wish we had or wish we could do as well as someone else. I don’t know if it is cultural or human, but this envy seems to be everywhere.

Here in America, we seem to feel that if we can do something easily, it has no value. Just think of the terms we use: we “earn” our paycheck at “work.” If we don’t have to struggle at it, then it’s not work, right? If we don’t have to work hard, then we haven’t “earned” anything, so what we did must not have value.

That thinking is false.

We all have skills—things we do more easily and better than others. Some of these skills are innate; some are learned. But all of us excel at something. It is ironic, then, that the very things we are good at are often the very things we devalue.

A few weeks ago, at my 25th high school reunion, we held a dedication ceremony for the new doors my class financed as their reunion gift to the school. We dedicated the doors to my best friend, Donna Hanson Woolman, who died of cancer 10 years ago. Along with speaking about Donna, I created a photo montage to show.

The number of people who cried at the montage shocked me.

Many people came up to me afterward and told me how wonderful it was, and what a good job I had done. I nodded and said, “Thank you,” but I was flummoxed. A photo montage, for me, is nothing. It is simple. I have been in video production for nearly as long as I have been out of high school. So to have people so moved and impressed by it felt a bit—embarrassing.

But it did make me understand, perhaps for the first time, that while we are busy admiring others’ skills, there are other people admiring ours. Putting together a photo montage for me is a few hours of work—for others it would be nearly impossible. Writing a blog post (once I have a topic) takes about half an hour. For others, it would take days.

We all have skills, either learned or innate. While we will never totally vanquish envy, when we feel particularly envious maybe we should stop and look at our own skills. We should remind ourselves that the person we are envying might be envying us our skills. Just because we find something easy or fun does not make it less of a skill.

We need to stop devaluing ourselves.

We all have gifts.

Our gifts have value—and so do we.

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