Word Count

Writers Talk About Writing

Writing and Skating

I'm a big fan of writing that's larded with metaphor, simile and personification. Here's a bit of figurative language I particularly like: to be a writer is to be a figure skater.

Here are five reasons why:

1. It takes a lot of hard work to make your performance look easy and graceful. People watching figure skating don't see the endless hours the athletes log on the ice, perfecting turns, practicing spins, building speed. Similarly, readers almost never imagine the hours of work that must be put into any published material. In addition to the writing, of course, there's also the researching, the thinking, the planning and — most time-consuming of all — the editing and rewriting. (I always advise my clients that they should spend twice as much time editing as they do writing.)

2. It's exhausting. I think most of us understand that athletes have to work physically hard. But so do writers. The energy required to write 1,000 words can't be compared to the energy needed to move a flat of bricks. Writing is tiring in a completely different way. It requires willpower — which is exhausting — and determination and focus. If you write diligently, you will be tired afterwards.

3. If you practice, you will get better. Sure, having some talent — in figure skating or writing — will help you start out further ahead. But the only way to improve is to practice. I was at a dinner party recently and met a former English teacher who aspired to write a book. "But I just don't have the discipline," he said. I suspected that wasn't the case at all. My hunch is that he fears his writing won't be good enough, so he doesn't want to do it. The solution to this problem is quite straightforward: write, write again, write some more. With practice, you will always become better.

4. When you are criticized — and you will be — consider the source. In figure skating some judges are famous for having it "in" for certain other teams. This overly competitive attitude doesn't take away from the merit of a really good performance. The audience knows what it sees. Similarly, in writing, be aware that not all your judges will be your friends. I'm suspicious of many writers' groups. Here are the questions you should ask yourself about your critics:

  • How much does this person actually know about writing?
  • Do they worry that my success might impinge on their own?
  • Are they constructive and helpful or just downright negative?

Finally, here is the most important tip of all:

5. Understand that whether or not someone likes your writing is almost always a matter of taste. If you were to take all the writing in the entire world — I know this is crazy but stick with me for the value of the metaphor — and put it on a continuum, only the very worst would end up at the "bad" end. And only the very best would be at the "good" end. The vast majority of the writing would be smack dab in the middle. And that's likely where your writing is, too. In figure skating terms, some viewers prefer the artistic merit of highly emotive skaters such as the late Toller Cranston, while others favor the incredible athleticism of an Elvis Stojko. Was one better than the other? I don't think so. I simply believe they did different things.

Writing isn't a competition any more than debating or figure skating is — even though we sometimes force them into that paradigm. Instead of worrying about  whether you're "winning" at writing, focus on the work and the practice and you'll inevitably get better all by yourself.

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A former daily newspaper editor, Daphne Gray-Grant is a writing and editing coach and the author of Your Happy First Draft. She offers a free weekly newsletter on her website Publication Coach. Click here to read more articles by Daphne Gray-Grant.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday August 29th 2018, 7:07 PM
Comment by: Dale P. (Portland, OR)
So true. Thanks Daphne.

You might add that one should choose their Reviewer/Editor carefully. Don't focus on the reviewer's writing skill, but on their knowledge of the subject matter, their understanding of your goals for the piece etc. As a Marketing Professional, I work with an engineer who fancies himself a talented writer. When he reviews writing I've done, he invariably steers the "voice" toward a stilted-but-grammatically-correct version that lacks the personality that I think needs to come out when writing effective copy.

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