Since we’re back in the thick of figure skating competition season, and I recently got my writing mojo back after several years of being deep in the doldrums, I thought I’d do a post talking about the similarities between writing and skating.
1. Very rarely are you perfect from the very moment you begin. Even novice skaters and writers who show great early promise, stunning talent, and unusual maturity and sophistication still have to hone those qualities and learn how to put them together for the complete package at the highest level.
2. Great skating programs and books work by seamlessly weaving all the elements in and out. Skaters learn how to transition from one element to the next without looking like they’re setting it up, and they don’t cluster all the jumps together. Likewise, writers learn how to incorporate research, character development, dialogue, continuity, foreshadowing, and plotting into a blended, cohesive whole.
3. Almost everyone has one complete meltdown skate, terrible showing in an event, or awful first draft. Those experiences are important to growth and development, and often give us the fire to come back much stronger. Sometimes we need to fail to realize just how badly we need to learn better or different habits.
4. Some coaches deliberately send skaters to a competition they know will be a failure. Likewise, some writers enter contests they know there’s a slim chance of winning and query agents they don’t expect a yes from. It’s more important to gain experience and discover which skills exactly most need developing.
5. Sometimes skaters develop bad habits like instinctively popping jumps out of fear or a lack of confidence. They’re perfectly capable of landing the jumps, but have that moment of panic. These habits can be overcome through training and getting back into the right mindset. So too is it with writers who fall into bad habits, like how I recently realized I went into permanent editor mode even when I wasn’t editing.
6. The wrong choreography, program, or partner can be the completely wrong fit for a great skater, just like some good writers flounder with certain genres, storylines, POVs, or tenses.
7. Skaters tend to go through a rough spot when their puberty growth spurt occurs, with lots of uncharacteristic mistakes. It’s not that they forgot how to do the jumps, but rather that they’re not used to the new proportions of their bodies yet. They have a new centre of gravity, a higher weight, longer legs, and thus need to learn how to do the jumps all over again with a technique tailored to that changed size and shape. Likewise, writers who hit a rough patch are able to come back swinging because they still have all the necessary skills and experience, even if they have to start doing some things slightly differently.
8. One of the first thing skaters learn is how to fall properly. Of course no one wants to fall, but it’s kind of inevitable when you’re balancing on such thin knives on slippery ice. The best you can do is fall with safe, proper form so you can quickly get back up and minimize the risk of injury. Likewise, writers should prepare themselves for not always doing so well.
9. Skaters immediately, instinctively realize they’re off-kilter in the air, but good skaters will fight for that landing, even if it’s two-footed, with a hand down, or with very shaky form. They don’t passively give up and let themselves splay across the ice like a limp ragdoll with an ugly fall. Likewise, good writers fight to get back on the right track or complete a manuscript when they’re struggling.
10. No one likes making mistake after mistake in front of a huge audience and knowing there’s no chance of a medal, but a good skater needs to push on and finish the program no matter what. He or she may have finished dead last or not qualified for the free skate, but at least s/he didn’t give up. Likewise, it’s important to keep writing every day of NaNo even when you know you won’t come anywhere near 50K, or get to the last word of a hot mess first draft that’s taking years to complete.
11. It’s common for a skater to start out being really strong on jumps but sorely lacking in artistry and connecting elements. Only time and practice can bring together the complete package. Likewise, some writers start out great with descriptions and dialogue, but aren’t very strong on character development and plotting.
12. No skating program or book will be across the board perfection every single time, but when they are, it’s oh so meaningful and worth every minute of training or editing.
However, there is one major difference between skating and writing. You could have a thousand perfect practices, but all that matters is how you perform on the actual day. Those great practices are meaningless if you miss all your jumps in competition, and you have no chance to redo that program. But in writing, you have the opportunity to edit and polish a hot, disjointed mess into perfection.