Sunday, 31 October 2010

Are writers swimmers? Or swimmers writers? Meg Harper

Some years ago, I read an article about the preponderance of writers who love swimming. I remember being intrigued at the time and so, since all else that I have on my mind about writing is yet more ranting about the way it is taught in schools (dear heaven, why, for example, are children still spending hour after hour hand-writing but if they want to learn to type they have to do it of their own volition in the lunch hour?), I’m going to submit a light-hearted and brief blog on that topic.
It intrigued me, of course' because I am a keen swimmer. I try to swim twice a week and do 30-40 lengths on each visit. No, I don’t plan my stories as I churn up and down though on a good day my mind does seem to do some creative mulling, once it’s discharged all the everyday worrying! On a bad day the pool is so busy that I have to devote all my attention to not getting mown down by the hefty men who seem to see a small, middle-aged woman who is swimming faster than them as a major male-ego challenge.
I love swimming so much that I worry about what would happen if I stopped being able to – I get too old and infirm, I can’t afford it, water is in such short supply that we can’t have public baths etc etc. I ask myself the question, if you had to give up swimming or writing, which would it be and (excuse me for blasphemy on this blog) it would have to be writing. Shock, horror! I’m convinced that swimming keeps me sane with its unique ability to relax and exercise me and to somehow wash my mind and body free of worry and anxiety and tensions.
Iris Murdoch was a keen swimmer. So, notoriously were Byron and Shelley. I don’t know of others but I’m intrigued to find out if there are more. I know that many writers walk each day and many take dogs with them – we get a fair bit of writerly doggie worship on Facebook - but are we closet swimmers too? Is that how we avoid writer’s bum? Let’s face it, if you go to a conference, on the whole you won’t meet a gang of obese writers – so what’s our secret? We’re a remarkably lean, fit-looking bunch on the whole. Maybe we should write a book and market it!
And those of us who are keen swimmers – does it help in the creative process? Do others find it liberates the brain for a bit of creative mulling? Or for planning whole chapters? Could I get an article for a writing magazine out of this?
Or shall I just tell school teachers to forget all that story planning stuff and take the children swimming?
So – how many of us are swimmers then? And does it help you to write if you are?'s Sunday morning. Normally I would swim but today I'm away from home. Darn, darn, darn. And that's the reason for no pictures either. Sorry!


Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Okay, I'm a keen swimmer, but I only really like wild swimming (sea, lakes, rivers, and when I lived in London, Hampstead ponds).

Brine baths are good too, there is one in Nantwich; not keen on chlorine.

I will swim outdoors out of season, but the latest I've done it in the UK is mid-October - the Menai Straits at night, with phosphoresence!

Book Maven said...

!'m a swimmer! A bit lapsed at moment because of other commitments, events etc, but I like to go 2 or 3 times a week to my local pool, where I swim for 20 minutes continuously. (I don't count lengths).

And yes, I do think about plots as a I swim and often get something resolved so that I am ready to start after breakfast.

What an intriguing post!

karen ball said...

Not swimming, but I love running for thinking through my plots. The path forwards often becomes clear when out on a run. Exercise is also a great way of just clearing the brain if in a fug - and our occupation is so sedentary that we need something active to do if our bodies aren't to freeze up. Great post!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Yes fascinating post Meg. But I don't swim. I lived all my childhood at the sea and found it too terrifying... those huge waves ready to take me down to the deep! My father was a life-saver in his youth and I think found me rather disappointing for being such a wimp. And I simply can't understand the swimmers going and up and down the Serpentine in the duck poo. So I already have writer's bottom. But I do yoga and gym.. obviously not enough!!! Bernard Shaw was a keen surfer... subject for another blog. There are wonderful photographs of him in one of those black knitted full swimsuits. Maybe Liz Kessler should be commenting, as she surfs... perhaps the inspiration for Emily Windsnap???

catdownunder said...

I do not have anywhere to go swimming that I can afford but I would probably head off each morning if I lived close enough to a beach! I do feel the same way though if I do not get my pedalling in.
Many Australian writers I know do not swim but I think that may be an access to facilities issue. Many of them walk - often in the bush.

Meg Harper said...

Sorry not to respond yesterday, folks! I was away from a computer, visiting my daughter! I with the walking and the pedalling too but I swimming is my biggest love. Di, you do now have writer's bum! Ridiculous! Clearly we need an SAS conference venue with a pool so Book Maven and I can do our stints and we find out if there are any other swimmers amongst us. I'm still scared of drowning, though, Di - one reason I'd avoid living by the sea is I'd feel really guilty about being too scared to be a member of the lifeboat crew!

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm late to your party too Meg. I have just had my swim, and I do go nearly every day but only because it is there. We have a smashing heated olympic sized open air pool on our doorstep. If I ever did get rich a pool of my own would be second after the pony.....
But I hate the sea much too scary!

Katherine Roberts said...

Well, as someone who has lived by the sea for four years and not been into it yet, I guess I'm no swimmer! But I do cycle, which does the same thing for me - only a bit more dangerously, since I was dreaming up a new plot when a big van hit me last week and knocked me off my bike.

As for the lean and mean writers? That's pure economics... food costs money, writers don't make much, hence not enough food to make you fat?

Andrew Strong said...

I own a rowing machine - I work out and watch foreign language dvds (the machine is loud, you need subtitles, may as well watch a film where you need them anyway...) But I exercise to shut out the noise of the endless mental chatter. I would meditate if I could, but I can't. So I understand your need to swim. Sporting writers: Bruce Chatwin walked, Camus played football, Hemmingway boxed, Martin Amis is still a keen tennis player. Enid Blyton loved snooker and Roald Dahl used to ice skate. (OK I made up the last two.)

Leila said...

I have just started adult swimming lessons and am enjoying it more than I'd expect to, mainly because the teacher is really nice. I hated it for ages, especially in pools - thank heavens they seem to have done something about the chlorine levels since I was a teenager. There are about a million other physical activities I find more interesting, though - at the end of the day in a pool you're just going back and forth, back and forth in a soup of chemicals and other people's body fluids. I enjoy walking, because you actually get somewhere, and see interesting stuff on the way.