Writing and Swimming

F. Scott Fitzgerald — one of the most talented architects of the English sentence ever to write in America — once said that “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.”

Swimming under water. Holding your breath. These things take practice for most of us. These skills develop over time. And so it is with writing.

I hope that Mr. Fitzgerald won’t mind if I play with his quote a bit.

First Steps

Writing: learning the shapes of the letters and how to reproduce them with your fingers grasped around a stick-like object

Swimming: learning how to enter the water, feel its coldness and sway, and stay in it

Second Steps

Writing: organizing the letters into words, and the words into sentences.

Swimming: learning to kick your legs and move your arms in the water

Third Steps

Writing: organizing the sentences into a story that someone else can follow

Swimming: coordinating the arms and legs so that you can move across the water without sinking

Fourth Steps

Writing: understanding the power of your words and your your ability to take them to places they’ve never been before, in order to make others see things they’ve never seen before

Swimming: plunging yourself under the water and holding your breath, in order to move in a completely foreign space made of water, not air.

So, all good writing, like all good swimming, requires that the writer take a risk: stick his head in and hold his breath. Some beginning writers (and swimmers) do that, but they often pop right back up to the surface. Staying down there takes skill and concentration. It’s not easy to manuever in that space made of words, but when you finally come up for air, the next Great Gatsby might come up with you.

Remember that the next time you take a dip in the great big pool of words we call our language.

Happy “swimming.”

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Alison said,

    I like the way you used this analogy. Practice is the key to every skill and keeping trying even when it has hurt. Right?

  2. 2

    […] compares Writing and Swimming and it is posted at The Expanding Life.Kim of In Our Write Minds tells the story of a reluctant […]

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