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What I Do When I’m Not Writing

So if you follow me on Twitter you may be aware that about six months ago, I got sucked into a strange and mysterious cult otherwise known as the Sport of Rowing.

I started because sitting around writing novels is fun, but rough on your body. Long days in a chair. Hours at a keyboard. Not healthy. I needed to get out and move.
I got more than I bargained for, as rowing has transformed my life. And guess what? As I learn to handle myself in a boat, I’m also discovering that what happens on the water has an enigmatic push-pull with my life off of it. Who knew that rowing and writing go hand-in-hand? But they do! Oh, they do!

1. Setting Out is Scary: There is a terrible moment—especially in a single—when you push yourself away from the dock, and you think, “What am I doing? This is a bad idea.” Maybe the water is rough. Maybe it’s cold. Maybe you haven’t been out in a while. It’s the same feeling I get when I begin a new book. I feel vulnerable, tippy, and very uncertain about what I’m about to do.
2. Rhythm Is God: You cannot row a boat hurky-jerky. It’s slow up the slide, and quick hands away. Over and over again. Likewise, every story has a balancing point, a voice, a structure. You just have to find it and follow it.
3. Repetition Is the Name of the Game: Want to row fast? Want to win? Put the oar in the water, and pull. Then do it again, and again, and again, and again. Even when your legs go numb. Even when your hands start bleeding. Even when you’re pretty sure you’re about to throw up. Do not stop. In writing, there will come a time when you hate the story, when you want to throw in the towel, when you have no idea why you’re doing what you’re doing anymore. This is NOT the time to quit.
4. You’re Going to See Things Other People Don’t: No one will understand why you get up at 4:30 and go out when it’s raining and 35 degrees. No one will understand why you run stairs until you hobble, or erg for 50 minutes at a time. Honestly, sometimes YOU won’t understand it. But there will come a day when dawn breaks on the water, and a seal pops up by the bow, and the ferry slides by that you will look around, and you will get it. You are seeing the world in a way almost no one else ever does. You will feel like an Arctic explorer, like you’ve gone back in time. I always get that feeling when I’m well and truly into a novel I’m writing. Like I’m a trailblazer. I feel humbled, and lucky, thrilled, and alive.
5. You Better Work Well With Others: I am a rowing slut. I will row anything—most often a single, a double scull, a four, and an eight. Rowing is not an individual sport. You need to be perfectly in tune with your pair partner and your stroke. You need to do what the coxswain tells you at the drop of a hat. Similarly, novels are not produced in total isolation. You should probably listen to your editor. You should remember that there are marketing teams, and publicists, and sales teams involved in the whole process of putting out a book. If you’re pushing against them, you just aren’t going to get very far. In fact, you may overturn the whole shebang.
6. If You Can Row, You Can Do Anything: Rowers are amazing and superior beings. It’s a simple fact. You don’t even have to row very long to feel that. There’s something about navigating a fiendishly difficult and narrow boat, often with other people, that translates into self-confidence. Maybe it’s because we are constantly pushing ourselves past what we believed we could do. Get my butt out of bed on a freezing morning? I do it! Handle equipment failures? Yes, no problem! Cox a boat in the dark? Sure! I feel like if I can handle whatever rowing throws at me, I can probably handle whatever the rest of life gives me, too. This has lent me confidence to try new subjects and tactics in my work, to take a chance, and reach for bigger things.
7. Rowing Is Wonder-ful: I turn into a six year-old when you put me in a boat. I’m like, “I’m in a boat! I’m in a BOAT!” Somewhere along the line, I’d lost that sense of joy, and boy, am I glad I got it back. Now, if I can only put it down on the page….

Whatever you do in 2013, I hope you find all the joy and fun in it, too. And if you haven’t found it yet, what are you waiting for? Get out there, and play!

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