Monday Writing Motivation: How to write a novel

 In How to write a book, Monday Motivation, Richard Beynon's blog

Next Saturday and Sunday I, and seven others – members of the Wet and Wild swimming group formed for just this purpose – will be taking part in a fund-raising swim at a lake not far from our houseboat. Each of us will swim for an hour at a stretch before handing on the baton to the next in line. Over the course of twenty-four hours, we’ll each swim for three hours.

We’ve already raised a fair amount of money to aid Level Water, a charity devoted to teaching swimming to children with disabilities, and hope to raise a lot more.

Today, a week before the marathon, Trish and Caroline, our neighbour on our pontoon, and I – went to Box End Lake where the relay will be held, to test the waters, so to speak. I had to make sure that I was able to enter and leave the lake at the start and the end of my stints in the water. I use crutches, and entries and exits can be difficult.

But it wasn’t just a recce. We booked an hour’s session in the water to see how we’d hold up.

Now, in the relay, we’re not required to swim any particular distance. But we have to swim for sixty minutes at a pace appropriate to our skill and fitness level.

Monday Writing Motivation: How to write a novel

Let me be frank, I was more than a little worried that sixty minutes was beyond me. Not only am I disabled – but (to my continuing astonishment) I’m also 74.

So we plunged into Box End Lake and set out to swim from one end to the other. We didn’t race, but nor did we dawdle. It is four hundred metres there… and four hundred back. Now, I’m not sure about you, but four hundred metres feels like a considerable swim in its own right.

I devised a strategy to manage the swim. In my mind’s eye, I divided the lake into fragments. Along the shore, there was a variety of minor landmarks: a large flowering bush; a path clearly used by swimmers to make an early exit from the water; a small jetty*; and so on.

But even more clearly, along the length of the lake a series of water-ski jumps have been erected.

So instead of ploughing on for four hundred metres, my task was simpler: it was simply to reach the first floating ski jump; then the second; and so on.

The waters of the lake are pellucid: put your face to the water, and a whole underwater world of vegetation emerges. Giant leaves of what I’ve always called aquatic cabbage; silky fronds of pond weed that caress your legs (and frighten those whose imagination turns them into clutching fingers); and a herbarium of other plants whose colours range from vibrant yellow to the darkest of greens.

For that first 400 metres, I sometimes did the crawl and observed the world beneath me. From time to time I switched to backstroke and watched the sky and the birds that inhabit it. I sometimes did a peculiar variety of inverted breast-stroke that I first developed during my stay in a rehabilitation hospital while recovering from polio as a child.

And before I knew it, the buoys that marked the end of the 400 metres hove into view…

When you set out on a daunting journey – whether it’s a hour-long swim, or a marathon, or a novel – doubts are likely to assail you. Do you have the stamina? Will your skills match your ambition? And will failure – which is always possible – be humiliating? Your inner critic is busiest at moments like these, as you prepare to launch yourself into your project.

But your only option is to throw yourself into the water and use whatever stratagems you can think of to meet the challenge.

  1. Breaking it into manageable bits – fifty-metre stretches, or scenes and chapters.
  2. Changing your pace to maintain both your interest and the interest of your reader.
  3. Feeding your imagination with the wonders you encounter along the way.
  4. Having companions to support you when your energy flags, and encourage you when those doubts return.

At the end of that first 400 metres, we turned and swam back. This stretch seemed much easier. And then back again… and a final return. That was 1600 metres in all. It had taken us 52 minutes. We’d done it. And although when, with Trish’s help I hauled myself from the water, I was feeling exhausted and more than a little wonky, I had established that the swimming lessons I’d been given as a young polio survivor all those years ago at the Hope Home in Johannesburg had meant this was possible at all.

As I said, we’ve already raised some money – but to get as many disabled kids as possible into the water, I’d like to ask each of you to help us achieve and surpass our target. It doesn’t matter how little the amount – lots of little bits, as this Monday Writing Motivation demonstrates, gets you to your destination. It’s easy. If you’d like to contribute to our fundraising efforts for Level Water, just click here.

Happy writing,


*James Joyce famously called a jetty “a disappointed bridge.”

If you have a novel or memoir you’d like to write, but don’t know where or how to start, check out our free writing resources. 

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