An article in today’s NY Times about Diana Nyad, who is planning a big swim from Cuba to Key West without using a shark cage, got me thinking about big writing projects. There are some similarities.
Yesterday I wrote about sharks and dread, and sharks are also an issue for Diana’s tropical swim. Big swims and big projects both involve an element of the unknown and of fear. There has to be high levels of motivation and sufficient control over fear to succeed at either enterprise.
Preparing for a two and a half day swim or writing a book both require dedication, discipline and constant effort both in preparation and executing. You have to be able to sustain hard work to make a splash in either world. The loftier the goal, the greater the effort required.
It is possible to become overwhelmed and to drown while swimming in the ocean and big writing projects are potentially overwhelming as well. With both, it is important to keep a balance of attention between the overall goal with the immediate task. It does not help Diana Nyad to think about all 103 miles of shark-infested ocean minute after minute. That would be overwhelming and potentially demoralizing, just as it would be for a novelist to constantly think about the enormity of the task of writing a book.
Long distance swimmers have a technique of swimming that involves regular side-breathing most the time, but every so often they lift the head forward to keep a sight on the final destination. Lifting the head keeps the swimmer on course, but makes the hips drop and slows the swimmer down in a way the side-breathing does not. You only want to do it once in a while. In like fashion, the writer of a big project needs to keep attention on the daily goals to keep up the forward momentum, and every so often it’s important to look at the larger vision and make sure the book is on course.
Diana Nyad is preparing in countless ways to be as fully prepared for the challenges of the swim, but undoubtedly there will be surprises to adapt to. One of the elements of her plan is to have a strong support team in place to assist her. No one can do the swimming for her, but she has a supportive crew that is essential for her to succeed. If you are writing that big book or dissertation or whatever, ask yourself if you have people supporting you. Do you have moral support, editorial support, practical support, financial support or publishing support that you can call out to if sharks start nibbling at your toes?
Finishing a big project or long distance swim brings a sense of gratification, relief and confidence in yourself. The knowledge that your lofty goal was obtainable opens doors to pursue other dreams, even if you can’t foresee exactly how you will accomplish them.
Maybe Diana Nyad’s swimming prepared her to write her book, Other Shores, about her natatorial adventures. I wish her the best with her swim, and perhaps she’ll write another book about the adventure.