Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Writing: It's Like Tennis



As I mentioned in my post about Hope, Pride, and Midway Blues, I've taken up tennis. As C. S. Lewis once said, "You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream." So there you go.

Of course, as I dug into tennis this summer, my writer brain ran parallels between writing and tennis. My thoughts?

  • Jump in at your skill level. I didn't enter the sport with the notion that I'd be a skilled player after a couple of lessons. I was starting out on the bottom rung, with absolutely no idea how to even keep score. (Tennis score is really weird, though, but I digress) Same with writing. We don't enter the writing life as experts. We enter at our own skill level and go from there. No pressure to be like the aforementioned C. S. Lewis--now or ever.
  • Soak up advice from those ahead of you. In every area of our lives, there are people who know more than we do. Many of those people want to see others rise higher and improve their skills. Tennis and writing are no different. If someone offers tips, don't get offended and shut them out. Instead, soak up their wisdom and thank them for caring enough to help.
  • There is always something to learn. Even the best tennis players practice constantly and continue to improve. Experienced writers agree that they do not know it all and that they must continue to work on their craft. We will never, ever, know it all. Thank goodness! The journey would be boring without growth.
  • Don't let setbacks stop you. Sometimes I feel as if I haven't learned a thing with tennis, and that I'm moving backwards instead of forward. It may be frustrating, but that's just part of the process. As writers, we understand that there will be good days and bad days, momentum and failure. Heck, even Serena Williams has setbacks. We learn from them and move on.
  • Stay after class. My serve needs...ahem...some work. At this point, I'm happy if it just makes it into the service box. After my practice with other players ends, I stay alone and work on my serve. If we recognize a writing weakness--character, plot, world--it's helpful to dig in and do extra work in that area. It may take time and effort, but the improvement is worth it.
  • Keep those muscles working. Whether it's the mental muscles of writing, or the leg, arm, and shoulder muscles for tennis, it's helpful to keep them moving. I didn't write much over the summer, and when I came back to my manuscript, it took me a while to warm up.
  • Fatigue happens. Sometimes I try so hard to improve my tennis shots, I become too fatigued. And when I'm too fatigued, it's a downward spiral. It's time to take a break. We've all been there before with our writing, yes? When our brains are fried and we read the same sentence over and over again and have no revelation about what to do next. Stop. Rest. Return.
  • Get out there and try. I played in my first league match last weekend. I went in with the attitude, I'm new, but I've got the guts to try. With the afterthought, I hope these ladies have a sense of humor. I have a long way to go, but boy, was it fun. I love the Wayne Gretzky quote, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." I say that to my sons all the time. And why should I be any different? Why not take a shot? What's the worst that can happen? My manuscript is a flop? I'm a goofy tennis player? So what?
With anything in life, I think the most important thing we can do is live in the moment and enjoy the journey. Otherwise, what's the point?

Writing friends, what's your take on these comparisons? If you've played tennis, how's your serve? Can you reliably get that little green ball into the service box? Help!!


26 comments:

  1. Very cool you've taken up tennis. It's never too late for anything. I didn't start playing guitar until about eight years ago and now I'm in a band.
    That willingness to go the extra mile and do a little more will take us far.

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    1. Alex, I didn't realize you've been playing for 8 years. That's so cool!

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    2. I've played an instrument since grade school, but always wanted to learn guitar. My wife gave me one for Christmas and the rest is history.

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  2. That's awesome you're learning tennis. And the lessons you learned definitely apply to writing too.

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    1. Natalie, I figured it applies to most endeavors in life, right?

      How are you doing with the emptier nest? We've adjusted, but I miss my son like crazy <3

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  3. I took tennis lessons when I was a kid but never got into the game, or any other sport for that matter (I'm notoriously non dexteritous). Glad you're enjoying tennis!

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    1. Marcy! Nice to hear from you. I never took played a sport before, either. Most require running. Bleh!

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  4. I rode a motorcycle in college, briefly, and grew up riding a small dirt bike at my cousin's house over the summers. So I wasn't completely new, but I was certainly a very young freshman on the bike.

    I'd been telling my wife that when gas prices hit $3.00 per gallon, it was time to get a bike. My math showed a clear break-even point at $3.00 per gallon. That's how long I've been pestering her about it.

    So I got my license back (I had one in college but let it slip away...) and started renting a few years ago. I tried out different bikes. I took advice, but not ~all~ the advice.

    See, advice is a tricky bastage. You have to be careful who you listen to. When a guy starts out with, I've been in seventeen crashes, man I know how to ride.

    No, you don't. You're an idiot. I don't want to ride the corners like you ride the corners, nor do I think your memory loss is as funny as you think it is.

    I got pestered by others, but not my wife. She supports me 100%, and I gave her veto rights at any point to put a stop to my madness. But she sees I enjoy it, that it offers me a release I would not otherwise have found, and she accepts that I share your belief -- that we are never too old.

    I believe we are old when we stop trying new things. It's funny when someone inn their twenties tries something new. We call them daring. Someone in their eighties tries something new. We call them inspirational. But someone in those in-between years, the middle years, we say, They're having a midlife crisis.

    I don't believe in such a thing. You want a real midlife crisis? Stop learning new things. Let your joy fade away with your youth, stop experiencing life, and proceed down the same one-lane blacktop you're already on with no turns left or right, no change in pace, just the cruise control and nothing to either side or ahead of you. Only empty road behind. ~That's~ a midlife crisis.

    So good for you. I love tennis. I played in high school and recreationally in college. I would be a beginner if I took it up again. Last time I tried to serve it was pretty terrible.

    - Eric

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    1. Eric, that's so great that your wife supports you. And I'm sure you support her in new things she wants to try. My hubby rode a motorcycle back when we were in high school, and I must admit, it scared the heck out of me. But most of the fun things in life cause a smidgen of fear anyway, right? Stay safe out there!

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  5. I miss tennis. Haven't been able to play for a few years (thank you pregnancy/baby). They're voting to put a tennis court in our neighborhood though, so I'm excited to get my game back on. I may not be awesome at it, but I love playing my hubby or son. That moment when you actually serve to the right spot or return a crazy shot, they make all the failures worth it.

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    1. OMG, Crystal, whenever my serves made it into the box, I had to resist squealing with excitement and losing my focus. But man, I was excited. And my team is great because no one is a die hard "must win" kind of person. We're all just doing it for fun.

      Your babies will grow VERY fast and you'll have more time for all sorts of things! For now, enjoy every single moment (spoken by the mom whose oldest is off to college. boo hoo!)

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  6. Great analogy, Julie. And some really good advice for all of us.

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    1. Thanks, Karen! I hope you're doing well :)

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  7. This was so fun to read. My very best friend whom I'm meeting for lunch today, is a tennis pro. She teaches all levels. I can't wait to tell her about your post.

    Susan Says

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    1. Oh, Susan, that's so cool! I marvel at tennis pros. Their skills blow me away. I hope you had fun at lunch.

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  8. I took tennis lessons years ago; I wasn't very good at it, but it was fun to play. I especially agree with the part about keeping your muscles moving; I didn't write that much this summer either, so it's been tough to get back into the writing groove.

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    1. I'm the same way with tennis...not very good, but having fun. And boy, do I know what you mean about getting back into the writing groove. Oy!

      But you moved over the summer, right? Sheesh. Writing through something like that would be nearly impossible.

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  9. I know I've said this before, but I LOVE the awesome way you look at life!! So inspiring!!

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  10. IDK what is going on with me and blog comments (at other sites, too), but the comment software doesn't seem to like me. :(

    I had left a more detailed comment (twice) but neither seemed to publish--or I did something wrong.

    Anyway, I loved this article, the references to tennis and writing, both areas that are challenging me to no end these days.

    I. Love. Tennis. (When I play Hubby, or my work friend, however, it doesn't seem to love me. I get sooooo frustrated...and wonder why I put myself in such a position to "suffer"--that's what tennis star--and my favorite--Rafa Nadal says happens on the court :)

    Same with writing: I keep pursuing it and it makes me crazy, but I can't stay away.

    The serve: the more fluid the motion, the more effective and reliable it will be. Practice, practice, practice! Mine is not terribly powerful but it is fairly reliable. I'm working on placement but still lack the confidence to go for the bigger shot.

    My favorite tennis blog: www.feeltennis.com (I tell folks a have a "coach" in Slovenia. Tomaz is awesome!

    Hopefully, the third time was the charm for this actually making it into your comments, Julie. BTW, I am VERY IMPRESSED that you joined a league and played competitively--I've been playing for many years and never done that. (Maybe you inspired me to do so? ;)

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  11. One more thing: you mentioned scoring. I read an article that suggested it is based on the clock: every quarter hour. (15-30... Why, I have no clue.) The article also suggested 45 was shortened to 40 (b/c it took too long to say--go figure).

    Also: "love" is most likely 'l'oeuf' (egg, or oval, the shape of a numeral 0), and "deuce" would be when both players completed the circle on the clock (i.e., 12 or "douze", which is 12 in French). Hopefully, that explains the evolution of scoring in tennis (but I doubt it will ever make any sense, lol).

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  12. The last time I played tennis was ....... 30 years ago at a school championship. I got to the final but sadly lost due to a fit of the giggles. I borrowed a skirt because mine had mysteriously gone missing. The zipper broke and as I went in for an overhead slam, plop went the skirt. Well, that was it! I don't think I hit a ball after that.
    Great post!! Thanks for reminding me of my youth :)

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    1. And one more reason to substantiate my choice of yoga pants (with pockets) on the court, lol. Those cute little skirts and I are not meant to be friends. Thanks for sharing this, Nicola!

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  13. I used to LOVE tennis. Maybe you can pull me back into the game. Gauntlet thrown down.

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