Sunday, February 19, 2012

Swimming in a Straight Line

"Well, you never sail a straight line from point A to point B – it’s usually a bit of a zig zag." - Matt Rutherford, sailing solo and non-stop around the Americas (
How many times have you started out wanting to swim in a straight line, only to find that you’ve veered off course?

You sit down at your desk and begin writing, planning to forge ahead with a chapter or short story, and you begin typing, and then ... the phone rings.

Or you spend the morning outlining where you think your story’s going, only to find later that afternoon (when you return to your desk after picking up your son or daughter from school) that you’ve lost the main current and are treading water (barely) in a shallow tributary, unsure how to return to where you began.

Or you are writing and the words are flowing and the pages are accumulating until you come up against a wall–a wall of fear or anxiousness or uncertainty–and all your forward momentum comes to a halt... and you can’t swim any further.

Swimming in a straight line occurs rarely and only under near-perfect conditions.You have to find an Olympic-size pool. With thick, straight, black lines painted on the bottom. And egg-shaped floats marking lanes. And even then it’s nearly impossible to swim in a straight-line.

When I go to the community pool to swim, it’s crowded with children careening down the water slide, teens doing cannonballs into the deep end, mothers holding infants on their hips, and youngsters using kickboards to learn to swim.

To get across the pool requires patience and determination and an eye for open space. You can swim for hours. But if you try to swim in a straight line, you’ll only end up frustrated and disappointed.

This is just another way of suggesting that writing isn’t a straight-line activity.

It is not a linear process, although the results of our labor make it appear as if the writer went straight from point A to point B without any trouble, when, in fact, the process was most likely more convoluted–from point A, say, to point W, and then back to point D, before finding point B weeks or months later.

The next time your writing is interrupted by a phone call or by a sudden fear of where your story's going, you might try overcoming frustration or despair by swimming in a different direction.

Swim in a circle for a change. Or a triangle. Or a figure-eight.

Sometimes the most effective route between two points isn’t a straight line but a "bit of a zig zag.".

For more on dealing with interruptions, visit:

1 comment:

Richard said...

True. Writing is a zig-zag course. Sometimes you begin without knowing where you're going, and sometimes it's the other way around.