Writing is like surfing. Okay, a little drier and more sedentary, but still there are many elements that line up, and to give credit where it’s due, I have to link back to Joanna Penn whose blog today was Why The Writing Journey is just like Skiing and provided inspiration.

Lotta competition in the water but everyone's wave is uniquely their own ride.

Lotta competition in the water but everyone's wave is uniquely their own ride. Photo by Mike Neal, Peahi

I’m not a skier. I did try to learn, being of an athletic bent and game to try any sport at least once—but skiing kicked my @ss and I blame it on being from Hawaii. So I’ll just stick with my original premise which is: writing is like surfing.

You have to be a beginner first. Start small, at the beginner spots, using a big board and catching the white water, getting your balance, deciding if the hazards (getting drowned, sharks, mean territorial surfers telling you to get out of the water, sea urchins in your feet, etc) are something you love the sport enough to press through. Writing has many terrible slapdowns and painful rejections built in. Only proceed if you simply MUST master this.

You have to get in shape. Surfing is a sport for the fit and determined, those who can take a pounding and come back ready for more. Same goes for writing. Surfing (and writing) require untold hours and hours of thankless practice. You aren’t going to take off on your first wave and end up in Surfer Magazine, and neither is your first story likely to end up in Writer’s Digest.

You need to learn from the masters. A lot of surfing is wisdom and secret sauce, like how to read the waves and rip currents, knowing where to choose the best “lineup” at any particular spot and the timing of when to go for it. Same with writing. Find some masters and stick close to them. Their wisdom will save you years of wipeouts.

You need to go out every day no matter the conditions. Developing the habit of daily writing is essential to long term success. Are there excuses and distractions? You bet. But people who master surfing go out every day and learn to navigate all the moods of the ocean. Do this with your writing, too.

You need to find your own style.  Goofy foot, regular foot, stink-bug, croucher, butt-out, soul arch, skateboard moves, power carves–serious surfers become recognizable by their consistent approach to a wave or ride, to the point that observers can recognize the greats by style alone. In writing, this is known as “voice.” Voice is the distinctive beat of the arrangement of words, a recognizable sense of who has crafted a work. “Voice” only arises through thousands of hours of practice and through experimentation with style until you find your own. Eleven novels in, I finally feel like I have a consistent “voice” that could be recognized by readers familiar with my work even without my name on the cover. Aspire to this. Everyone who takes up surfing or writing will have a style–but whether or not it will be memorable and distinctive is another story.

Go left, or go right…but don’t go straight. You are going to have to zigzag and work the individual wave you are on to get the best ride. Your writing path is not going to be mine, or Stephen King’s, or Joanna Penn’s. Yes, learn from masters…but in the end, your wave is your own. Every writer’s path is different.

You are going to wipe out. A LOT. In fact, get used to it. Most of your initial efforts are going to be “shitty first drafts” as Anne Lamott calls them. Don’t let that stop you. In fact, be amazed if you get anything right in your first draft! The key is getting up, getting back on, and paddling back out for the next one.

Once in a while, you will keep company with God. Oh, yes. Those days exist. The sun is shining, the palms are waving, the water’s warm, the waves are perfect and there are even dolphins jumping. This is the life. Never forget it, and never take it for granted.

What sport do you think writing is like? Share a little of your journey with us!

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