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It is fantastic to be able to merge hobbies…and I did some fantastic scuba diving at Port Stephens, New South Wales this holiday as well as some writing.
On the first shore dive, only about 7 metres deep, I saw sea pens everywhere. I had previously only seen them in deep cold water in New Zealand, so this was exciting! If you have never scuba dived, the picture left is of sea pens similar to the ones I saw.
As these look so similar to the quills that writers used to use, I reflected on what scuba diving can teach about writing. Here are the 7 lessons:
(1) Notice the details
As a scuba diver and a writer, you need to get in close and really focus on the details. Look closely and notice what is life, see the movement behind the camouflage. Once I got in close to the sponges and hydroids on the bottom, I saw sea horses and decorator crabs like bits of sponge with claws on. I wouldn't have seen them unless I was so close and looking carefully. Make your writing like this. What are the tiny details?
(2) The experience is important, not just the end result
Diving is all about being in the moment and loving the experience. Concentrate on enjoying the process and not just the end result. You will never stop writing, so you might as well enjoy the ride and not just those fantastic finished pieces. Each dive is different as is each piece of writing, so take each experience as it comes.
(3) Discovery, learning and surprise are important
Scuba diving is all about seeing what is under the water and it is exciting when you see something new or beautiful and you can capture that in a peaceful moment. Discovery and surprise keep you wanting to go back for more. Explore your writing this way as well – surprise yourself. You also need to keep learning and get better from the experience. On one of my dives, my buddy and I missed the entrance to this swim-through and had a long surface swim in current. I was exhausted and learned that I should have taken a compass bearing first! What do you want to learn about writing this year?
(4) You are alone, even though you have company
With scuba, you have a buddy and perhaps a dive boat full of people. With writing, you have clubs, conferences, writing partners, classes, editors and friends. But ultimately, both endeavours are individual. You write alone. You scuba in your own bubble. You experience it yourself, and you enjoy it or not as yourself. This gives you freedom and responsibility to yourself.
(5) You need the right equipment
Scuba diving involves plenty of equipment, most of which is vital!
Writing really only needs a pad and pen, and these days a computer, but you still need your equipment. I use Moleskine notebooks (like my hero Bruce Chatwin) and colourful gel pens for notetaking, and a laptop for writing. I am going to get one of the tiny EE PCs so I can write on the train, and I use a small dictaphone for my interviews. What do you need to write? Decide what you need, get those things and get writing.
(6) Self confidence is important
Confidence is the only thing that will get you into the water for scuba diving. Confidence that you know how to be safe, that you will love it when you are under, confidence in the equipment, in your ability to be calm.
Writing is also difficult sometimes, and people will always criticise. If you don't believe in yourself then you will wither and may even stop writing. Confidence in your ability to write may need to be faked at first – but hey, everyone starts somewhere! I was on a diveboat with a guy who had just qualified. On his first dive, he saw 15 grey nurse sharks and he was THRILLED! He had confidence and he will just get better for diving more. You will get better by writing more.
(7) Stop talking about it, and just do it
Many people say they would love to scuba dive, but only a few actually take the course and persist into loving it as a hobby. Many people say they would like to write a book, but haven't got the time or the energy or the skill to learn. Both scuba diving and writing require you to actually put time into the activity. You need to immerse yourself in both of them to be successful and also to enjoy them.
I have also written a pantoum about scuba diving which explains how peaceful it is for me.
Top image: Sea pens Flickr Creative Commons Mazarine
Are you a scuba diver? I'd love to hear about your experiences in the comments.
[Added 2013: I wrote this when I was living in Australia, after 7 years in New Zealand – so I have mostly dived down under. Now I live in the UK, I want to get back into diving again!]