How Writing is Like Swimming

Swimming as analogy for writingMy daughter’s swim season is drawing to a close. After 3 months of breathing chlorine fumes and sweating through sunscreen, I can see many similarities between swimming and writing.

Technique & Form

Technique is important for swimming. The way your hands enter the water, the precision of your kicks, how you position your head, all combine to power you smoothly through the water.

Technique is equally important in writing. The choice of words, precision of punctuation, flow of elements such as dialogue and metaphor, all combine to bring your voice to life and give the readers a smooth experience.

Technique can also be called “form”. Writing has different forms as well, from poetry to novels. Writers need to master the structure and expectations of their form and genre.

Stamina & Muscle Memory

Incessant laps in the pools increase a swimmer’s stamina. Hours of repetitive practice ingrain the techniques in muscle memory, enabling swimmers to swim faster without having to concentrate so hard in their movements.

Writers who practice their craft also build up stamina, so they can plow through the tough times to get to the end of a novel. Careful study and repetitive practice of techniques store them in a writer’s subconscious so they come easily, allowing the writing process to flow faster and the writer to seamlessly weave the elements together.


Swimmers who don’t master breathing will run out of oxygen before the end of a race. Similarly, writers who don’t step away once in a while and recharge risk burning out on longer projects.

Like swimming, mastering writing takes hours of practice to build up those creative muscles, coaches to help you perfect technique, and a cheering section to get you through the hard times.

So pick up your pen, stroke out boldly, and don’t forget to breathe.


The Black Belt Writer

Writing can be terribly subjective. One reader loves your every word; another reader wants to use your book as kindling. Sometimes I wish writing came with an objective measurement to see how you’re advancing—like Karate.

My daughter took up Karate this summer, and I’ve found myself having conversations with her that I have with other writers. Most recently, we had the “don’t compare yourself to others, just to your own progress” talk. She was worried that she would always be a white belt, because others were better and farther advanced than she.

We writers go through similar feelings. Heck, it’s hard not to compare yourself with other writers, especially when these are other writers that you know personally. It’s easy to think that you’re not succeeding, that you’re never going to get “there” (wherever “there” is for you). That you will be a white belt forever. So the only way not to drive yourself crazy is to stop comparing yourself to other people, and mark your progress against your own past. Is this writing better than what I wrote last week? Last month? Last year?

But how do you mark your career progress in this subjective field? In Karate, moving up to the next belt has two components: physical and mental. It’s not enough to learn the techniques of the moves—you also have to display the right attitude, with discipline, focus, and respect being high on the list.

The same is true of writing. We learn the techniques (save the cat, hero’s journey, kill your darlings, etc.) and work to improve them. We practice and practice until each clumsy new technique becomes a subconscious movement in our work. But that’s not enough to climb the belt ladder. We need to have the right attitude, too. We won’t get far without discipline and focus to get work done and respect for the people we work with—most of all, for our future readers.

So we all start out as white belt writers, and we work and work and finally we feel like we’ve got the craft under control and the attitude is right where it should be. So we’re black belts, right?

Not so much. I’m thinking maybe purple belts—about half way to black.

Because now all the publishing stuff enters into the equation. Now we have a whole new set of techniques to learn (many of them at odds with our temperaments) and a whole new attitude to adjust.

So we dive into marketing and publicity and meeting the public and social media and, oh, yeah, we’re still supposed to be writing somehow, and didn’t I leave my family laying around here somewhere? But slowly we learn the ropes of our new existence, and we adjust our attitude to the professionalism needed to work with agents, publishers, movie/TV producers, other authors, booksellers, and, of course, our readers.

Okay, we’ve done that. So now we’re black belt? Maybe. I’ll leave that up to you. I might consider a true black belt writer to be one who not only lives on their writing but is able to write what they truly want to write. You might choose to award a black belt at publication, or a certain number of books sold, or even when you have written a book that finally matches the vision in your head whether it gets published or not. The definition of success, like so much in the writing world, is personal.

And that is as it should be.

Do you ever wish there was a visible way to tell where you were in your writing career? How do you measure your success?

WP-Backgrounds Lite by InoPlugs Web Design and Juwelier Schönmann 1010 Wien