All you need to finish that essay (or short story or chapter or poem…you get the idea) is an hour of peace. The words are there. You can feel them tangled up in the back of your brain. But there are too many distractions sitting at your desk. (Yes, even as perfectly as you’ve created your workspace) You could go for a walk, but the outdoors aren’t exactly quiet, either, are they? No, you need something guaranteed to leave you with NOTHING – except the thoughts rattling around in your head. It’s time to head to the pool for some lap swimming.
Swimming: Is it For You?
Before you berate me for daring to mention an exercise involving bathing suits, hear me out. Swimming is extremely healthy – and not just from a writing POV (I’ll get to that in a minute). Even if you do nothing more than swim laps, you manage all of the following:
- An aerobic workout that ALSO encompasses endurance, strength, flexibility, and resistance (without special equipment, I might add*).
- A lowering of the inflammation in your body.
- A reduction of insulin resistance in the brain (this helps the brain grow new cells – something you’re going to want in your writing career).
- Higher calorie burns than the same time spent running, with ZERO pounding on your skeleton.
- Improved lung capacity with LESS damage to the lungs (really important if – like me – you have asthma).
- Strengthening of your cardiovascular health.
*Okay, yes, you need a bathing suit. And goggles and a swim cap make the process easier and more comfortable, but they aren’t strictly necessary. And, compared to, say, weight-lifting or cycling, you’re getting off easy in the equipment department.
Courtesy of the density of water, swimming is a zero-impact exercise. That takes pressure off your joints, allowing you to move freely. When you suffer from chronic pain, it’s a blessing. It also makes the sport appealing to people of any age. (Obviously, if you’re new, an extra arm floatie won’t hurt)
And to lap swim? You DON’T need to know the fine details of competitive strokes. Provided you can get from one end of the pool to the other without running into anyone (or scaring the lifeguards into thinking you’re drowning), no one cares what you look like.
Can’t say that about too many other sports now, can you?
Swimming as a Writer
All right: You’re in the pool. You’ve figured out the mechanics of coordinating your arms and legs. Maybe you’ve even set a goal of time, laps, or distance for yourself.
Notice anything when your head’s underwater? It’s QUIET! (Well, relatively quiet) Sure, you hear the sounds of the water, but no voices, no traffic, no birds – nothing intrusive. Water is background and soothing and often used as white noise when people need to sleep. It won’t invade your thoughts.
And once you’re comfortable swimming, your arms and legs will move without any conscious input from you. You can go on autopilot. (Yes, I promise you’ll remember to breathe)
That hour or however long you set aside becomes a solid block of brainstorming!
Put your body in the water and turn your mind LOOSE! Unravel a troublesome chapter. Think through an essay you’ve been struggling with. Dialogue with a character you need to know more about. Review an edit you aren’t sure about. Or simply open your imagination and watch what tumbles out.
Tuck a notebook into your swim bag so you can jot down notes as soon as you’ve finished swimming. Or splurge and pick up a waterproof notepad (not an affiliate link – don’t worry) and keep it poolside.
Trust me: You will be AMAZED at how prolific your mind becomes as your body gets its dose of physical activity.
Why, Yes, I am Part-Mermaid
I swam competitively for over ten years. As a kid, my bedroom walls were a mix of Teen Beat posters and swim meet ribbons and medals. I never had much of a social life because my schedule consisted of swim practice twice a day and meets every weekend.
And I LOVED it.
I lived for the rush of adrenaline at hearing the starter. And I pushed myself to improve my times, shaving off tenths of a second and stretching my fingers for the wall to win a heat by a hundredth of a second.
You wouldn’t think there’d be time to think of anything in a twenty-five-second race. Except it feels like an eternity. And, even then, I got lost in my head. I didn’t focus on my arms or legs or the screaming of my lungs; my body knew what it was doing. I zoned out until my fingertips hit the wall and crashed me back to Earth.
It’s not different now, when I’m no longer racing.
Swimming has become my relief from the world. I’ve come up with two essay ideas, three short stories, and a new character for my sci-fi novel. I “wrote” no less than six pitches, crossing out and revising the words on a mental page. And I sat down with my inner critic to review three chapters and decide how I wanted to approach the edits.
Those laps are the most productive writing time I’ve ever encountered.
And I’ve shaved off three minutes from my time, swimming one mile in 42 minutes. (In case you worried I wasn’t using it for health)
Get in the pool. Take the pressure off your body, and take the pressure off your brain. You’ll wonder how you ever did without those days in the water.