Breakthrough Days Make all the Slogging Worthwhile

Whenever we learn something new, the curve of progress rarely climbs steadily upward. When I last wrote about wingfoiling—a fresh challenge that Paul and I took on rather late in the season last year—I was uncertain how my tottering learning curve would handle a long winter break. So when we started up again in mid-May, I was very pleased to discover that those ten or so October-November sessions (plus four hours in February, squeezed in after a Florida winter regatta) had somehow stuck with me.

Boards and wings just waiting for another breakthrough

Going airborne

When the weather shut down last fall, I’d just had my first few rides—each for only a few seconds, but an important taste of the joyous freedom that quickly became my goal. There’s a huge sensory difference between slogging and slapping across the water’s surface and lifting out to skim silently above it; most noticeably, there’s no noisy wake. 

When the water and air warmed up enough in the spring to start the new season, I was hungry for that next chance to fly… but also a bit timid about falling into sub-60 degree water. As temperatures climbed, I was able to try new foot positions and refine my winging skills—while taking the inevitable splashdown of both body and board after each short “hop.” But I still spent most of our hour-long sessions slogging along at water level, wondering what I was doing wrong.

And then a few weeks ago, on a random weekday afternoon, I had what I’m still calling my “breakthrough day.” The breeze was perfect, about 12-15 knots and steady. The water was flat, and traffic distractions were minimal. Suddenly, without any conscious change—I was flying. And I stayed flying, for long enough that I had to steer around a lobster pot—with success! What a rush. Even the eventual crash landing was a hoot—partly because the water had warmed up from bone-chilling to refreshing.

How this helped my writing

A few days after my wingfoiling breakthrough, I woke up with a fresh and clear idea about what would happen next in the story I’m working on—and quickly wrote a new scene that ties together two seemingly unrelated threads. After weeks of slogging through details on this next book, wondering if I was getting anywhere, I had a breakthrough day of writing. Coincidence? I think not. Because it’s easy to see in hindsight how the physical breakthrough of wingfoiling helped open my mind enough to have an imaginatory breakthrough as well. 

Keep slogging

Both mentally and physically, it’s important to keep at it on the days when we don’t seem to be making much progress—because all that effort is what eventually makes the rare breakthrough days happen. So every time I go wingfoiling, I’m going to try to extend the length of my airborne runs, adding distance by the foot and yard… until I can string together an entire run and only need to descend back to water level to change directions. I’m also going to keep slogging away on the next scene of the next book, word by word, because it’s the only way to get to the point where I can write “The END”—and share it with all of you, at last.

How about you—any summer breakthroughs? Share them in the comments below, or send me an email. I read every single one, with gratitude.