Writing Lessons on Ice: Day 1

When I was a kid my great dream was to be an Olympic figure skater. Truth be told, that dream lives on in a corner of my heart.

I was–and still am–mesmerized by the ease and grace with which the accomplished skaters sped and leaped and twirled across the ice. And not a little impressed with the sparkling costumes.

There’s something inherently poetic about strapping blades to your feet and stepping out onto the ruthless, beautiful emptiness of the ice. Something about the way the skates carve figures like script across the surface.

But why on earth am I waxing eloquent about figure skating on Day 1 of the first Write 100 group challenge? What does ice skating have to do with writing?

Over the last week I’ve wondered what I would say as we set out together on the Write 100 challenge. What would set the tone? What would cast the vision?

Still not sure what to share as Saturday afternoon disappeared, I grabbed my skates and went downtown to take a spin on the last day of the skating season at my favorite rink even as I prepared for the first day of a new season of writing.

(For the record, while I’m the proud owner of a treasured pair of skates and possess this glowing passion for skating deep in my soul, I’m actually a terrible skater. Cling-to-the-wall terrible, but ardent nonetheless. Just want to be upfront about this.)

As I found my balance and wound circle after circle around the rink, I enjoyed some prime people watching and the space to think. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between skating and writing.

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It takes risk.

When you go skating for the first time (or even the tenth or twentieth, in my case) you instinctively want to cling to the wall for support. In a moment the good, hard ground you’ve always relied on is gone. Instead you’re faced with a sheet of ice, an element known for being rather hostile to humans, with only a sharp blade to balance on.

Stepping onto the ice is an exercise in stepping into the unknown. So is writing. Truthful writing could take us anywhere. It forces us to face the good and the bad both in ourselves and in our world. We rarely know where  we are headed when we set out. That’s okay. In fact, it’s good. Though it may not feel like it.

When you choose to write you put yourself at risk. You commit something inside of you to the permanence of ink. When you share your work you expose a part of your self–your heart–to others.

The only safe story is the story that is never started, but that is no story at all.

Write 100 is a risk. Your commitment to this challenge will take sacrifice of your time, energy, creativity, and more. My sincere hope is that–on June 19th–you’ll find the risk well worth the reward.

You might (probably will) fall.

When I teeter on my skates, I feel a flush of panic. My arms pinwheel. I’ll grab onto anyone or anything to keep upright. Every time I go skating, I dread the prospect of falling. I’m not sure why it terrifies me so much; it just does. But it just might be that it’s the very thing holding me back from getting any better.

We all fall flailing to the ice once in a while, if not on a more regular basis. And we all fail in writing at about the same rate.

Maybe you’ve been rejected by publishers time and time again. Maybe the story never seems to come out right. Maybe you stare at a blank page and want to hide because, once again, the ideas just won’t come. All these “failures” and more are part of the writing life.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received came from a recent college grad right before I began my freshman year at the school she’d just left. Her words:

“You’re going to fail. You might as well get used to it.”

For a firstborn, Type-A, achiever personality such as myself, those words were like a punch in the gut. Many of us fear admitting failure even more than the failure itself.

When we let go of our fear of failure, however, we’re finally free to skate and write and learn and live.

As devastating as it is to watch a figure skater fall in competition, there’s something inspiring about it too. It’s magnificent to watch a triple-triple or a quad landed with pinpoint accuracy and artistry, but what really baffles me is when a skater crash lands but jumps immediately to his or her feet, speeding into the next jump or twirl with a smile.

Sometimes the most beautiful performances only break through after the fall.

Over the next 100 days, when you fail (and you will) don’t let it hold you back from giving the challenge and your writing everything you’ve got. When you miss a day, stay to the course and write the next day. When you grimace at the last day’s writing, keep going–we get better with practice. Failure is part of the learning curve, not the end of the story.

It’s good to lean on one another…

I’m 99.9% certain I was the only person at the rink who’d come on their own. You had your hockey dudes racing, couples holding hands, teenagers laughing and taking pictures, families teaching little ones to skate, etc. (As I said before, it was good people watching.)

Part of the joy of skating with others is how the uncertainty of the ground beneath your feet makes you rely on others. You lean on a friend to pick you up when you fall and on a teacher as you learn to glide rather than walk. Just take a look at  pairs figure skating to discover the beauty that comes from leaning on one another to lift you up and offering the same in return.

Although you are the only one who can sit down and get the writing done, a writing community can make all the difference along the way.

Find people who’ve been there before and listen to their advice. Find peers who will discover the writing life at your side. Find younger writers to encourage as they follow along the same path.

Lean on the writers whose stories inspired you to start writing your own, and remember the audience you hope to serve. When you face rough patches, share it with someone.

Whatever you do, don’t neglect the importance of community. Write 100 has the potential to create (and I encourage you all to invest in this unique opportunity) but don’t stop there. Perhaps take the chance to join a new writer’s group, take a class, or get in touch with the friends and classmates you used to talk about books with. Share the highs, the lows, and all the regular days in between.

The writing life is more sustainable and more fun when we do it together.

…but there’s also a time to let go and stand on your own.

If you want to pursue any skill or craft–from athletics to art–you won’t get anywhere if someone else is pushing you the whole way. External motivations are great, but you have to decide if it’s worth it to you.

If we cling to the wall the whole time, we’ll never get the opportunity to enjoy skating.

Learning from one another is one thing. Dependency is another. Nobody can do this for you. You are the one who has to choose to write, and you have to take ownership for that. Taking the Write 100 challenge is a great step in that direction.

As scary as it may seem, push yourself to try something new, put your work out there, or overcome a fear that’s kept you from writing.

Balance is key.

Beginning skaters instinctively try to walk on the ice. As long as you insist on walking, it won’t work. It’s new territory, and the mechanics required are quite different.

To quote Yoda, “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

Instead of stepping with one foot after the other, a skater glides. To put it simply, you push with one skate while coasting  on the other. Yet none of this is possible on the precarious platform of ice without solid balance.

The stronger my body, the better I am able to skate. I can put myself in a position for this with good posture and strong core muscles, among other tricks and training.

Balance in the writing life is a must. There are two parts to cultivating good balance.

The first is training. Train your mind with reading. Train your craft with regular practice. Train your senses with observation. Train your body with activity, exercise, rest, and nutrition. Train your curiosity, your imagination, and your wonder.

All these pieces are linked together. As you train your skill, understanding, and endurance will deepen. You’ll be a better–and happier–writer for it.

The second is keeping boundaries. Stray too far in one direction, and the whole enterprise is liable to fall apart. Know when to say when. Whether it means letting a piece go or setting down the pen and paper when the time is done or the muse has fled to see to your relationships, your responsibilities, and the rest of your life.

So while it’s a good, important thing to write regularly don’t let it become the only thing. Find your writing time. Commit to it. Protect it. But it isn’t everything. Let your writing time spur you on to ask questions and engage with the world around you. And let the rest of your life provide the fuel for creativity.

Writing is reflective and perceptive. It should take us closer to life, not farther away.

So get out there and live. You never know what story you’ll stumble upon.

 

Write 100 isn’t going to be easy. It’s a tall order to commit to 100 days of writing. There will be days when the last thing we want to do is write. We’ll want to do anything else–watch Netflix, do laundry, or go to bed. Other days we’ll be riding high on the euphoria of a new idea or just the right combination of words.

I’m excited to share this adventure with you. And I can’t wait to look back on all we’ve learned and accomplished 100 days from now.

Let’s Write 100!

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