Every day this week we’ve hauled ourselves to the pool, not because it’s summer and that’s what people do in summer. (Honestly, we’re not that kind of people. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a pool person or not.)
No, our reasons for being at the pool at 9 a.m. are so our children, who are 8 and 6, can learn how to swim so that they don’t have to cling to us grown-up types anytime there is water nearby. They are not afraid of the water. Just unskilled.
Earlier this summer I was feeling shame at my lack of effort to enroll them in swimming lessons. Work schedules and finances were easy excuses but frankly, it just wasn’t a priority. And then we stayed at a hotel that had a pool and the kids had tons of fun splashing while gripping our necks. And then we went to a resort that had TWO pools and the kids could have had much more fun if they had some swimming skills.
So, this is where summer finds us right now. At the pool every morning for two weeks in the beginner class.
Our beginner class has a lot of older kids in it. Our son, who is 6, is the youngest. Our daughter, who is 8, had swimming lessons about five years ago and retains some knowledge. In fact, she was secretly hoping she’d get to move up a level immediately.
I can totally relate.
Several months ago, I applied for a scholarship to a writing conference. As part of the application, you have to assign yourself a level of expertise. Descriptions help with that process, and although I have many years of writing experience behind me, I have to click the “beginner” option for this particular organization.
Because it’s a fiction organization. (Not to be confused with a fictional organization. It is very much real.) And fiction is something I’m new at. A total beginner. I’ve been studying fiction fewer years than my kids have been alive, and I use the word “studying” loosely. I read books. I write some words to made-up stories. I learn from other writers.
But I have yet to take the next step. Like approach an editor or an agent. Or really let anyone see my work.
I’m a beginner.
Let me say that again: I am a beginner.
I have this in common with my kids as they learn to swim. They have passion and enthusiasm for swimming in abundance. Same for me with writing. They know enough to know they like it and want to do it, but the “how” escapes them. Same. They expect to be good at it without much effort. Ouch. Same.
On day three of swimming lessons, the kids started practicing arm strokes and proper kicking. I don’t know if you know this or not, but beginner swimming lessons differs from Olympic swimming in one very noticeable way.
These beginning swimmers slap the water wildly with every limb while the trained swimmers glide through the water almost unnoticed.
At the same time our kids are taking lessons, a couple of twin girls a year older than my daughter are having private lessons. They dive and swim lengths of the pool like they were born in the water.
It can be discouraging, on the one hand, to be a beginner in the same pool with someone more experienced. It can be tempting to think that the effortless way they move through the water is the product of genetics and natural talent when in reality it is lots and lots of hard work.
This is what I keep telling myself when I read a book I love. This book I hold in my hand is a finished work, the product of years, or at the very least months, of hard work. Of laborious hours of writing and editing. Those are the stages I can’t see from behind my computer screen but that I know are there because a few authors have been willing to push the curtain aside and let us newbies see the reality.
It can seem a daunting task to bridge the gap between beginner and experienced, but just as my kids won’t learn to swim just by sitting on the side of the pool or playing around in the shallow end, neither will I become a better writer without some awkward splashing.
Technique takes time, no matter the skill one is attempting to learn.
I love starting things.
Until they get hard.
I want to be good at new things without effort. So, when faced with the hard work that leads to improvement, I’m tempted to quit. I’ll never be like this person or that one. I’ll never make it to that level.
And that’s true if I quit. It’s almost a guarantee.
What isn’t guaranteed is the outcome if I don’t give up. If I work hard and learn and start as a beginner, who knows where that could lead?
Mosts beginners will be faced with the temptation to quit. And the fate of every beginner will hinge on how he responds to that temptation. Will he give up before he’s really begun? Or will she learn everything she can to improve and do the work required to achieve the next level?
The fate of every beginner begins at the beginning.