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Mystery & Drama

Can Novel Newbies Learn Anything From Elite Athletes?

GWBush1This post starts out at the NY Times article by Gina Kolata entitled “Training Insights From Star Athletes” of January 14, 2013.  http://nyti.ms/UNpDPE  Here’s how Gina begins:

Of course elite athletes are natually gifted .  And of course they train hard and may have a phalanx of support staff – coaches, nutritionists, psychologists. But they often have something else that gives them an edge: an insight, or even an epiphany, that vaults them from the middle of the pack to the podium. I asked several star athletes about the single realization that made the difference for them.  While every athlete’s tale is intensely personal, it turns out there are some common themes.

 Sports and writing are somewhat alike.

Upon reading the article, I immediately began to think that these insights were applicable to aspiring novelists too.  After all, sports is an endeavor that can be all consuming to the athlete who is pretty good at it, serious about it, and wanting very badly to succeed at it.  Sound familiar?  Sports to my mind, is all about truth.  Sports lay out the conflict, the story in a highly uncompromising way.  You win, you lose, you draw.  You make the team – the starting lineup – the goal – or not.  Outcomes are not subtle but plays within the game are.

Stay Focused

An Olympic Gold Medal Swimmer confided to Gina that she found success when she abandoned daydreaming during her tedious practice swims in favor of staying intensely focused on her technique instead.  How many beginning novelists squander time drifting off on ill-conceived side trips in their writing that don’t illuminate character, directly affect the conflict, tell not show, allow cliches, over-use phrases or words?

The Energy pie

Kolata tells of advice a star distance runner received from his physiologist about managing his energy pie: “Energy pie? All the things that take time and energy – a job, hobbies, family, friends, and of course athletic training. There is only so much room in the pie.”  This advice isn’t a call to abandon your family and friends.  But, it is a lecture on limiting distractions. The hundreds of blog posts devoted to all manner of subjects pertaining to building and maintaining your author platform, and other social media concerns can devour the time that debut novelists need to be spending on getting their novel on the page, and on perfecting their craft.

Take Risks

Gina’s article relates the experience of a young lady who dreamed of becoming a world class figure skater.  She had the grace and athleticism, but she was very tall as figure skaters go.  A coach suggested she go into rowing, even though it would mean that she would have to abandon her dream and enter the unknown. She took the risk, and made a national team that won a world championship.  As a writer, take the time to question what you’ve accepted as the norm, that you exclusively write YA Paranormal,  Non-fiction, or Stage Plays for instance.  Try a different genre, or take the story you’ve developed for the stage and turn it into a novella.

Portland Stage Company
Portland Stage Company (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or try something not so adventurous.  A play that I thought was my very best was not going anywhere. I submitted it to contests, festivals, regional theatre companies, all without success.  Then, I decided to shake it up, to go after “my darling” with a vengeance. I introduced a new character, a 17 year old girl with penchant for orange hair, lacy skirts and combat boots. She challenged all the ossified truths of her elders, and breathed new life into the play.  And was instrumental in getting the play named as the best play submitted by a Maine playwright to the prestigious Clauder Competition, adjudicated by the Portland Stage Company.  Not exactly Broadway, but not chopped liver either.

What insight or epiphany have you had that changed the writing game for you in some way, even in a small way?

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