Thursday, August 29, 2013

Cross-Training for Writers by Katherine Valdez

Katherine Valdez writes essays and flash fiction. She was a Top 6 Finalist in the Grey Sparrow Journal 2012 flash fiction contest, and her story “Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance” was published in the anthology Open Doors: Fractured Fairy Tales (Wayman Publishing). One of her posts will appear in the new anthology Random Acts of Kindness: A Blogfest.


Cross-Training for Writers, by Katherine Valdez

The rink is dark and strands of rainbow lights illuminate the slick floor.

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.

This visit to Rollerland is much harder than writing.

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.

breathe sunshine
dance happiness

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.

My sister mentioned she has different journals for different purposes. “So do I!” I said. A daily journal, dream journal, and gratitude journal, plus a dozen spiral-bound notebooks scattered throughout my home and car, for recording brilliant ideas and snatches of conversations that may end up in my stories.

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. 


Kenneth W Harmon said...

Excellent post Katherine. Writing is a lot like roller skating, we fall on our butts a lot before we learn how to move forward.

Dean K Miller said...

And just when we get comfortable with 4 wheels underfoot, someone glides by with on in-line skates and we wonder...How does she do that?

So we dust ourselves off one more time and soon, we're eyeing the inliners not with envy, but as comrades in arms...soon joining up as a group, helping each other along.

Yes writing is like roller skating, scared, sketchy, jerky, steady, then something new, critique group next...gliding to success.

Julie Luek said...

I like the concept of cross-training. I hike, jog, and use the elliptical all in hopes of keeping my body working efficiently. It's the same with our writing. I too keep several notebooks and journals, but never thought about it much in terms of stretching my writing wings. Great concept. Thanks for sharing.

Yolanda Renee said...

Although my roller skating days are over I love the aspect of cross training. I never thought of writing horror until a friend dared me too, and then I had no choice. I did it, and was actually pleased with the results. I love the challenge each genre gives us. Great post!

Love the title "Little Red Riding Hood Seeks Vengeance!" It's got my imagination working!

Katherine Valdez said...

Thanks for taking time to comment, everyone!

Ken – I guess there's no way to avoid that stage. Glad to have a supportive critique group and other writer friends who will steer me right.

Dean – I saw the in-line skaters and thought exactly that! I like the image of gliding to success.

Julie – You're welcome! Good luck with cross-training. I'm interested to hear what you try. I have an idea for a creepy short story. Maybe inspiration will come as Halloween approaches.

Yolanda – That visit to Rollerland convinced me my roller-skating days are over, too. But I will continue to try new things. I'd love to read your horror story!

pam2spicy said...

Katherine. What a great visual. I can remember roller skating days. Once you get your balance you can fly! That thought will keep me going.Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Katherine! I think it's essential to challenge yourself as a writer by trying different genres. I've always thought I'd be good at writing horror because if I let me imagine run wild (usually at night while I'm trying to sleep), I can really end up freaking myself out. One of these days, I need to give it a try.

Arlee Bird said...

Don't bring up rolling skating please. Last time I tried I nearly injured myself. That was 30 years ago when I was in my early thirties and I felt like an old man then.

Good points about staying on our writing toes. We should always be rehearsing lines and doing writing exercises to stretch our abilities and stay in good shape. Your suggestions are good ones.

Wrote By Rote

Katherine Valdez said...

Thanks for taking time to comment, Pam, April and Arlee!

Pam—Those were the good old days, weren't they? :-)

April—You sound like a natural for horror! Keep pen and paper on your nightstand so you don't lose those great, middle-of-the-night ideas.

Arlee—I hear ya! I fought hard to keep thoughts of broken wrists and twisted ankles out of my mind during that skating session. Glad you like these suggestions.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for taking time to comment, Pam, April and Arlee!

Pam—Those were the good old days, weren't they? :-)

April—You sound like a natural for horror! Keep pen and paper on your nightstand so you don't lose those great, middle-of-the-night ideas.

Arlee—I hear ya! I fought hard to keep thoughts of broken wrists and twisted ankles out of my mind during that skating session. Glad you like these suggestions.