Monday, November 2, 2015

What Roller Derby Taught Me About Writing

I got to go to one of the practices for the Cinderollas.
I was watching them warm up, and they started doing this thing with a bunch of balls. Not what's in the above pictures, that was something else entirely. No, what I mean is that when everyone was just there skating around (and there were a lot more people than just the ones pictured because there junior team was there, too, along with some other skaters), they threw a couple dozen of those lightweight brightly colored balls for kids out onto the skate floor.

Let me back up a moment:
As I said in my first post about roller derby, I grew up skating and working in the recreation program at my church. We did skating in the gym, and I was often in charge. One of the first and basic rules of skating was balls and skates don't mix. When I was in middle school, one of my best friends broke his leg because he tripped over a basketball while he was skating. Well, perhaps tripped is too light a word. It's not like it was just there on the floor in front of him and he didn't go around it or something. No, it came rolling across the floor and hit his feet. At any rate, the rule was no skates and balls at the same time (not that we always followed that rule, mind you, but that was the rule, nevertheless).

Needless to say, I was surprised that they were tossing all of these balls out onto the skating floor during the derby practice. They were kicking the balls, throwing them at each other, and, generally, having fun with them. Eventually, when they got ready to actually start practice, they gathered up the balls.

About that time, Dirty Carie, the CEO of the Cinderollas (with whom I'm trying to get an interview), came over and asked me if I had any questions. My initial response was, as is always the case, "No, I don't think so," but I immediately changed my mind and asked about the balls, something like, "What's the deal with the balls?"

Her response was very interesting:
We try to get them not to think about their feet and what they're doing with their feet. Newer skaters tend to focus on their feet and think about how they're skating and not pay attention to what's happening around them. Of course, that doesn't work in a match. So, if we give them something fun to do, they are more likely to think about the game and let their feet just do what they need to do. If they get busy playing with the balls, they forget to think about their feet and just skate. The more we can get them to do that, the better they skate.

That's true for a lot of things, especially physical things for which muscle memory can take over. Often, thinking about it, thinking about what you're doing, can just mess you up. I think we frequently call it "trying too hard."

It works for writing, too. Writers often get too focused on the individual words and sentences. They think they have to only have "useful" words or just the right word or that every sentence has to further the story or be perfect or beautiful in some way. They do word counts on specific words and go back and cap that particular word at some arbitrary number of usages. Or other weird things. It's like thinking too hard about what your feet are doing.

Writers need to just tell the story. Don't think about the words or the perfect sentences or any of that and just tell the story. The better you get at telling the story, the more easily the right words and sentences will fall into place. All on their own, really. It's kind of magical that way. Sure, it takes practice and, sometimes, especially at first, thinking about the words helps, but you can't stay in that place. At some point, you have to play with the balls and forget about your feet. Just have fun in the game and tell the story.

18 comments:

  1. Great lesson from the Cinderollas. I would just be thinking about staying alive if I got in the rink with some of those roller derby chicks.

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  2. Sometimes you just have to let go and trust you can do it, have enough faith in your talent - writing or skating - and know you can rock it!

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    1. Elsie: I think you're saying, "Use the Force."

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  3. That makes sense. Like playing music. The less I have to think about the placement of my fingers, the better I play my guitar.

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    1. Alex: 'Cause thinking about it slows you down.

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  4. I think that advice works well for first drafts: lots of time if I stop and THINK about the story I'll decide I don't like it. But for editing, I've had to learn to go back and READ the story. I tend to use a lot of "and" and "that" when I write, and I do horrible run-on sentences and the like. So my editing I do actually do a word find and look for "and" and "that" and the like. I think it improves it a lot.

    After all, someon once told me that I needed to learn editing better...

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    1. Briane: Well, editing and writing are two different things. Editing is when you go back and review your performance and work on making it better. If you're trying to keep track of words and making perfect sentences while you're writing, you'll hurt the story.

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    2. That I agree with. The old-time scifi writers used to brag about how fast they wrote stories, or so I read in the intro to one collection of scifi from the 30s and 40s. I wrote "Codes" in about 2 weeks, but then the editing took forever.

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    3. Briane: I cannot write fast. I will never NaNo.

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  5. Absolutely true, especially when someone points out that an author uses a certain word or phrase too much. Then they go into overkill mode and remove every single usage. That's overthinking things.

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    1. ABftS: Oh, yeah, I've seen that. And been accused of that. But those words are still there because, well, screw that guy. If "suddenly" was good enough for Tolkien, it's certainly good enough for me.

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  6. I always paid attention to my feet when I was skating. I had a tendency to trip...a lot. And overthinking is definitely something I do too much...

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    1. Jeanne: Learning to just do things without paying attention to the doing of them can be a big deal.

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  7. Great analogy. I'm currently trying a new method of plotting to get back into the swing of writing (a NaNo-sponsored book called Ready, Set, Novel!... which honestly made me cringe when I first started reading it, but decided to get rid of my 'this is stupid' bias and just try it.... it's been fun!) and can totally understand where you're coming from.

    Did you get a chance to skate yourself? Or did you just hang out for the derby? :)

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    1. Alex H: I do skate, but I didn't skate then. I was just there to watch the practice and meet some people.

      If there's one thing I've learned from watching books, it's that readers only really care about the story, whatever kind of story it is that they like.

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  8. That's good advice. I think too much when I'm writing or doing anything for that matter. I can really get off on a tangent sometimes.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

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    1. Lee: I can't say I don't have that same problem of thinking too much.

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