(Re)Learning to Swim – Art vs Technique

I love to swim. It is one of my favourite activities and one of the only forms of exercise I don’t begrudge, perhaps because I can’t tell if I’m perspiring. I am by no means athletic or proficient with it, but I enjoy doing it and have decent stamina.

Several years ago, a friend of mine decided she wanted to learn to swim. As an adult, however, she was embarrassed that she didn’t already know how, so she asked if I could help her learn the basics. Being a good friend—and not just a little bit infatuated with her—I said sure, happy to help.

A few days later, we got to the pool and I tried to break things down for her. Unfortunately, unlike many other exercises, with swimming you are in water and therefore much of the mechanics are difficult to view directly. Thus, I had to show her the mechanics above water, as though swimming to the ceiling. And that’s when everything started to fall apart.

No sooner did I begin teasing out the various movements in swimming than I realized that I was rapidly losing the ability to swim. Eventually, I just had to thrash about for a bit to remind myself how to do it.

It was unnerving.

I had been swimming (swum? swam?) for so many years that it was just something I did. It was never something I analyzed. You get in the water. You swim. It was muscle memory.

In teaching my friend to swim, I had separated the technique from the art, and for a brief few minutes, lost the art in the process.

The same can happen with writing.

In the earliest phases of our development as writers, it is important to develop a basic understanding of the mechanics of writing and story, to have someone walk us through the process. But at some point, we have to step forward and simply practice our art.

If writing is purely a mechanical exercise, then it is very dry and boring. It lacks the spirit that it needs to live. It is the difference between an animatronic deer and a biological deer. They may look very similar, but one is alive and the other is inert.

As a more seasoned writer, I have found that there will be times where I try to focus on the more mechanical, structural aspects of the stories I am writing. I want to make sure all the right elements are in the right place. But when I read the material over later, it always sounds forced, wooden, bereft of life.

In my effort to teach someone how to write properly—in this case, teach me—I have, however briefly, lost the ability to write. I have sacrificed the art for the technique.

Technique and process are vital, but they are not art. Art comes as you build the spiritual, intellectual, psychological muscle memory to allow yourself to immerse yourself unthinking into your writing and simply allow the story to flow.

As I’ve said before, story before structure. Art over technique.

Do fish ever think about swimming? And if so, do they then sink to the bottom? (Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica)

Do fish ever think about swimming? And if so, do they then sink to the bottom? (Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica)

Snorkeling in Costa Rica – Isla Tortuga

I love to snorkel and am constantly amazed at the variations in colour and texture found in the ocean. Unfortunately, I’ve never managed to get my act together sufficiently to capture any of these visuals. Until my recent trip to Costa Rica.

Determined to come home with snorkeling photos, I bought myself a small camera that if I lost it, would not represent a great financial loss, but if it took decent photos would be a nice addition to the family.

I opted for a Kodak Sport model, which although not technically an underwater camera, was water resistant to 3 metres…I was going to test the limits of “resistant”. (mine is not the model in the link, which is much nicer, but you get the idea)

A brave fish that gets out of your way, but doesn’t rush, so you typically have time to take its picture.

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Shifting currents were a bit of an issue, and I often found myself twisting in the “breeze” while trying to take a photo.

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I’d seen the larger fish below in Hawaii, as well, and was amazed both by the vividness of its colours and that it could maneuver at all with those tiny fins.

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I am near sighted and the camera viewer was hard to see underwater and through my mask, so the fact that any of the photos were on target and focused is amazing.

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Thank goodness for schools of fish…it dramatically increased the likelihood of me getting something in the shot.

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As someone who burns easily, I normally avoid the sun…thank goodness it showed up today.

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Those little blue guys are everywhere, but they are extremely skittish…I don’t know that I ever managed a clear shot of one.

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This was like swimming through a cloud of liquid silver…this was a huge school and shimmered so much that I swear they generated light.

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Unfortunately, the strong currents tended to cloud the water, so the photos aren’t as pristine as I would have liked. (I cut myself some slack, however, as this was my first time.)

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Feels like a double exposure of one fish.

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These photos were taken off Isla Tortuga in the Gulfo de Nicoya near Putarenas.

If you get the chance, GO! It is magnificent.