While I generally don’t think writers and actors have that much in common, I do think we share a capacity (or at least a desire) to “inhabit” a subject, in other words to get inside a character and see/feel/think what the character feels. It's a challenge.
In Young Woman and the Sea, my book about Trudy Ederle, (aka Gertrude Ederle) the first woman to swim the English Channel, my biggest fear was that I would be unable to “inhabit” her and translate her experience as a Channel swimmer with authenticity. After all, I am not only not a nineteen year old girl, but - at best - I’m a pedestrian swimmer. What do I know about that experience?
All I could do was all I could do, steep myself in research and use my life experience to try to gain access to her experience, and by that I mean the physical discomfort and mental gymnastics I’ve experienced from a variety of activities – running regularly for more than thirty years, pouring concrete for fourteen hours a day, pitching a baseball, kayaking on Lake Champlain in a wide variety of weather conditions, and other things I’ve done that have required real discipline, focus and physical stamina (like writing a book). That being said, I was still worried I’d get something wrong, and that an experienced open water swimmer would roll his or her eyes and call me on it.
Yesterday I received an e-mail from someone who has read the book, a person who has swum the Channel several times, both in relays and alone. She wrote of the book that, “It is wonderful. You really were able to capture open water swimming and what it is all about.” And then she went on to cite specific examples, scenes from the book that resonated with her own experiences both swimming the Channel and training for it.
Writing a book is a long slog, and that e-mail made me feel like I'd just made it across an English Channel of my own. It is already my favorite review.