Just Keep Swimming

As a writer, I’m always searching for inspiration (read: procrastinating), but I especially love stories of perseverance because, as anyone who dreams of publication knows, it’s a necessary life skill for those of us brave enough to pursue this little author dream of ours.

I drew so much inspiration this week from watching competitive swimmer Diana Nyad swim from Cuba to Florida.

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The feat itself was impressive as all get-out. But what was so much more compelling to me were the number of times she failed in her attempts, only to say, “What can I tweak so I can try this again?” Her first attempt at this swim was in 1978. Thirty-five years ago, people!  In 1978, the movie Grease debuted, John Paul II became Pope and the Bee Gees were on record players. Remember record players? Diana Nyad was 28.

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She is now 64.

Her first attempt didn’t go so well. Neither did the next three. Here are some of the obstacles she dealt with: strong winds, strong currents, shoulder problems, asthma, dehydration, hypothermia, straying off course, box jellyfish stings, Portugese man-of-war stings, lightening, fifty-three hours of being in the water.

On her fifth attempt, she made it.

It would have been incredible had she achieved success on her first attempt. But seeing the pride and accomplishment on her face when she was interviewed this week—thirty-five years after she declared it a goal of hers—made me actually glad she didn’t. Her victory was all the sweeter for the hurdles that preceded it.

On our writing journeys we can just about guarantee we will get knocked down. A LOT. We put ourselves out there and ask for it and it’s the nature of the business. Some of those rejections will smart like a jellyfish sting. Some of our dreams may take years and years to realize. But if you happen to get a critique note today that’s hard to swallow, or an “I’m afraid this isn’t a fit for me” note from an agent, or even an “I just didn’t connect with this” pass from an editor… don’t give up.

Think of Diana Nyad and jump back into those shark-infested waters.

The victory will be all the sweeter for all the efforts and the tweaks and the knock-downs that preceded it.

Just keep swimming!

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(PS- Diana had a thirty-five person support team in a boat beside her for her entire swim. Make sure you do too!)

16 comments

  1. Love this (and Diana Nyad’s story) …

    And by the way, I can vouch firsthand for the fact that Jen is an EXCELLENT editor in addition to her writing talents; if you need outside perspective on your work, I highly recommend her (see her bio above).

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  2. I was going to point out Joyce’s comment about the Greek myths but I got beaten to the punch. 😉 What a great post, Jen. She is so inspiring!

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  3. Jen, loved this post and it rings so true. The picture book I just signed a contract for received about 30 rejections and it took ten years of perseverance. Just hang in there for the right timing, writers and illustrators. It will happen if you keep at it!

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  4. This is just the sort of thing that every writer needs to read. Thanks for the inspiring post! I was completely awed by Diana Nyad’s perseverance when I heard that she finally succeeded! Now I just need to keep plugging away!

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  5. This is spot on! Perseverance is the most important lesson to learn in life. I’m sure many called Diana Nyad crazy and wondered why she kept going. I’m inspired by her as I am all the writers I meet who overcome so many obstacles to live their dreams. Thanks for inspiring us, Jen!

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  6. Jen, funny about names. Nyad sounds like naiad, the nymphs who presided over bodies of water in Greek mythology. Also, the young of dragonflies and their cousins, are naiads and in that form live underwater until they emerge when ready for adulthood. So, Diana lives up to her name and perhaps at 64 is ready for the rest of her life! I love that you pointed out her backup crew. Yes, critique groups and our other book friends are so valuable for similar (in a metaphorical way) life support. Thanks for a great post.

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