Cross-Training for Writers, by Katherine Valdez
Clunky, tan suede skates weigh down my feet. Stiff and scared, I roll one step forward. This isn't so bad.
But I'm still on the carpet.
“I haven't roller-skated in 30 years,” I confide to a young mother. She sits on a bench against the wall, watching her kids.
“It's been five years for me,” she says with a smile. “I decided, 'no.' ”
This is how I feel sometimes in the middle of an essay or short story. Creaky, unsure of myself, and worried the results will hurt. Really hurt.
At least I'm not in danger of breaking bones when I'm standing at the kitchen counter, tapping on my laptop keyboard.
But I need to burn calories and supplement my hiking and running, so I decide cross-training is in order. After traveling 20 feet down the narrow strip of carpet against the wall, I step onto the shiny floor and congratulate myself for not immediately falling on my butt. I steer clear of wobbly youngsters traveling as slow as dripping honey.
A few short glides later, I lose my balance for a second. My arms flail. Ignoring a small twinge in my lower abdominals – Already? – I complete a practice lap and retreat to the safety of the carpet.
I've heard the inspirational quotes (“The essential part of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” – Edwin H. Land), attended writing workshops, and joined a critique group. I've published a couple of short pieces, and a flash fiction won honorable mention in a contest. But I still struggle with confidence. My writing group buddies laugh at how often I include the line “extremely crappy rough draft” at the top of every submission.
Trying to roller skate gave me an idea. Athletes cross-train, so why not writers? Write a haiku while while waiting at the dentist's office or at your daughter's basketball practice. Or spread magnetic poetry tiles on the refrigerator and describe an incident from your day, or something to inspire your writing life.
If your specialty is romance, try horror: the mold in an old apartment grows to monstrous proportions and attacks the slumlord. Or do a mash-up: a misunderstood troll falls in love with a plucky co-ed. If you usually write narrative nonfiction, try flash fiction, which can be as short as 50 words if you enter the contests on NPR's Three-Minute Fiction Facebook page.
While camping last month, instead of writing, I sketched the scene on a hand-sized pad and experienced it using all my senses. I noticed every line on the Ponderosa pines, every shadow falling on the tent, and every patch of green lichen covering the boulders. Hummingbirds buzzed by, a Stellar's Jay imitated a red-tailed hawk, and a squirrel's raspy barking added to the cacophony. The morning sunshine warmed my back while I sipped coffee.
Cross-training opportunities are everywhere. Analyze the storytelling techniques of movies or stand-up comedy routines, take an improv class, write an essay about your vacation, ask questions about technique at book signings, imitate your favorite author's style, join a book group and ask what everyone thinks of the plot structure and narrator's voice.
After many laps at Rollerland, grooving to radio tunes that echo throughout the cavernous rink, I notice an older gentleman skating quietly and confidently as he completes lap after lap.
He's good, I think. He's been skating for years.
When I was a newspaper intern years ago, a columnist told me, “It gets easier.” I know he's right.
If I write regularly, read widely, and challenge myself to try new things, I'll get better.
And I won't worry so much about falling on my butt.
Thanks, Katherine. I think we all worry about falling on our butts until we've had a few years to get used to the pain.
Learn more about Katherine and her writing at her blog. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. She was recently a guest blogger at Chuck Sambuchino's Guide to Literary Agents blog with her post, "Close Encounters with David Sedaris: My Experience of Meeting a Famous Author."
For U.S. Residents: Katherine is giving away a copy of the excellent Wayman Publishing anthology, Open Doors: Fractured Fairy Tales which features her short story "Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance." Just leave a comment on this blog post by midnight Friday, August 30th. The winner will be posted here on Saturday.