You think about your diving practice and realize how similar it is to writing. First, there’s the training. Before you even see the deck of a pool, you start somewhere else entirely: Dryland. You stretch. You run. You do gruelling, monotonous exercises. (You wonder what any of this has to do with writing: no, diving.)
You finish your warm-up tired, sweaty, and probably thinking about quitting. This isn’t fun or easy or graceful or natural. Then it’s time for rotations, and god, you hate rotations. Fast-paced exercises on the trampoline, on the dry boards, on the floor, and it’s been hours by the time you’re finished, and you still haven’t made it to the pool deck.
You’ve taken a little break, had a snack, probably drunk your bodyweight in Gatorade. You’ve changed into a swimsuit, and now you’re thinking, okay. Now I finally get to do what I came here for. I’m going to write a book; I’m going to perfect that dive; I’m—going to stop mixing my metaphors.
But first, more stretches.
You’re in line.
You’re on the board.
You slowly start that hurdle, one step and then another, and you’re bouncing, you’re in the air—
And you hit the water, belly down, and it fucking hurts.
You’ve been at this for hours. The water would be refreshing, if not for the giant red welt across your chest. You did the work—why didn’t it pay off? You did the exercises, you did the stretches, you’ve sweated and bled and been bruised and you did this perfectly on the trampoline and the dry board and you still flopped, and it hurt like a—well, it hurt a lot, okay? And you probably aren’t feeling too great about trying again. That sucked. Like, a lot.
But there’s someone there. A coach on the sidelines, yelling at you to pick yourself up and get back on that board, dammit; the dive isn’t going to write itself, and the book won’t land without practice. Try. Again.
And you do.
You try it again. You practice the steps on the deck in slow-motion, letting them become ingrained in your memory. You practice the jump from the side of the pool, make sure your arms come all the way up to your ears, and make sure your jump is straight up, toes perfectly pointed. Finally, you take it to a higher board to give yourself more air time, and despite it all, despite trying it again and again, the water resistance is still awful. In fact, it’s even worse from up high, especially when you’ve tried so hard, and you’re not sure what else you can possibly do to make it better, and every now and then you think about quitting, but then you look up.
That older diver, the one who’s been here way longer, who has the best coach and goes to the coolest competitions and wins prizes and gets invited to other competitions, who has a sponsor, goes up to that same board and does something so spectacular that you remember why you’re there in the first place. Grace, eloquence, the way he twists himself into just the right shape—his arms make a perfect triangle with his shoulders, elbows straight but not locked; his body a perfect line; his legs together and his toes pointed. You can see his muscles work, but the dive still looks effortless, and when he meets the water just right, the resistance gives way and there’s almost no splash…you’d forgotten what that looked like.
You get up. You try again.
And still, when you soar through the air, when you twist and turn, it’s not elegant. It’s not graceful. And maybe you haven’t gotten to the Olympics yet, but you push through the water resistance, and you feel it, when you hit the water this time, and it’s a little smoother, and it feels damn good when you surface and hear the cheers from the sidelines.