Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympic writing

I’m watching the Olympic figure skaters and am struck by often they fall short—or just plain, fall. Years of training, hours of effort, coming back from horrific injury and yet, they fall. Hard. In front of a viewing audience of millions.

Two-time national champ Johnny Weir told a group of little girl skaters, “We’re skaters. We fall. A lot. Get used to it.”

But who wants to fall? That ice is hard. Yet, learning to fall and get up again is something we all need to do. In writing it means letting yourself write crap. Perfection is always the enemy of the creative process.

The real danger is in not realizing that failing is part of the process. Getting up again, going back to the desk after a miserable day writing, that’s where the good stuff is.

The new scoring system is controversial. The compulsory moves —do they rob the skater of freedom or enhance their artistry? I thought the artistry would be gone until I watched several of the skaters embrace the restrictions and soar. Their originality, personality and verve were clearly visible, even when defined within the constraints of the required elements.

Writers have to adhere to required elements. Grammar is a big one. Storytelling arcs. Genre conventions. All novels have basically the same elements, It’s what the author does within them that matters. We can either chafe against the restrictions, or embrace them and write the best book possible within our limits.

The best skaters were those who seamlessly integrated those steps into their routine by changing them up, skating backwards, adding flourishes and flair. The mundane became extraordinary when that happened. The writer does the same. Working in the boundaries, but somehow managing to rise above.

10 comments:

signlady217 said...

The mens' free skate program was just incredible! I am so happy for Evan Lysacek. He skated so well. Russia's Pleshenko (the defending gold medalist) did really good, too, and almost squeeked by into first. Really enjoyed watching those two guys! Wow! Looking forward to the ice dancing on Friday.

Camille Minichino said...

As much as I hate sports metaphors (Olympics? what's that?) you have a point, Terri!

Betty Hechtman said...

I'm in Chicago and Evan Lysacek is the hometown hero. Several girls who belong to the same skating club were interviewed on the news. It was fun to hear how excited they were for him. The news also featured a story on the viewing party hosted by his foot doctor.

I gather from the commentary that the skaters have certain things they have to include and then have some free rein with what they fill in after that. The Russian guy played it safe. Maybe it's the same with writing. Stay within the lines, but make it original.

Betty Hechtman said...

I'm in Chicago and Evan Lysacek is the hometown hero. Several girls who belong to the same skating club were interviewed on the news. It was fun to hear how excited they were for him. The news also featured a story on the viewing party hosted by his foot doctor.

I gather from the commentary that the skaters have certain things they have to include and then have some free rein with what they fill in after that. The Russian guy played it safe. Maybe it's the same with writing. Stay within the lines, but make it original.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Terri, you are so right. Thanks for reminding me to keep picking myself up, dusting myself off, and getting back on the ice.

Terri Thayer said...

The Olympics are always a good reminder of what it takes to excel, although sometimes I worry that they're going too far.

Thanks for the comments, everyone.

Linda O. Johnston said...

I really like your analogy, Terri. Maybe I'll try ice skating. Er... no, I think I'd better stick to writing!

Terri Thayer said...

I just last night's finals. Evan Lysacek looked so terrified as he went out to skate. And he skated beautifully. Johnny Weir did a beautiful job, too.

We are writers. We fall down. A lot.

Monica Ferris said...

Gosh, Terri, what a great comment! Comparing the restraints of ice skating with the restraints of genre fiction. Well done! Who was it said that success consists of getting up one more time than you fall.

beckylevine said...

Great post--"embrace the restrictions and soar." Yeah!