Pushing past your limits: on swimming and writing

“About 40 miles into the [120-mile-long] swim, I tore my right bicep,” the petite woman standing in front of the room said. You bet it hurt. “But,” she continued, “I realized I still had three other limbs: I could keep swimming.”

Last week, I complained a lot here on this blog. Well, maybe it wasn’t the worst complaining you’ve ever heard; let’s just say I was transparent about my frustration and exhaustion. While I was grateful for all the opportunities I had that required me to write, I’d been writing too much—I felt “overdrawn at the word-bank.”

Can one compare these two situations?

In the first corner, we have an athlete who’d trained for years, hour after hour of swimming laps. Not to mention nailing a swim across the English Channel on her first attempt. She was exhausted and sore, but she didn’t complain; she kept going.

In the other corner, we have the sedentary writer who’s written for years. She’d written every day for over 11 months (Day 343 yesterday!). She was exhausted and sore (a shoulder impingement; maybe a writing injury, though our heroine suspects knitting). She complained wrote transparently about her frustration. But she kept going.

I’m pretty confident that I am never going to swim across the English Channel or down the mighty Hudson River (that was Paige Christie‘s 120-mile swim). But I’m gonna cross the finish line of this writing every day for a year thing. And when I do, I’ll set my sights on year 2.

When the most athletic thing you ever do is watch baseball games, there’s something surreal about listening to endurance athletes tell their stories. But this feat of endurance writing I’m working on takes a similar kind of commitment and strength. No, I didn’t have to worry about being attacked by jellyfish (one of the perils for Channel swimmers) or keeping a hand-built boat from breaking apart in a hurricane (as Tori Murden McClure did in her first attempt at rowing solo across the Atlantic). But I have had to write through emotional storms raging in my personal life (don’t ask) and in our culture (I wrote on November 9th, just not with the same enthusiasm I had on the 8th).

And now my writers are three days into their 90-day commitment. So far everyone’s on track.

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