There's no end
to the things you might know, depending how far beyond Zebra you go! {Dr. Seuss}

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

10 Writing Lessons I’ve Learned from Gymnastics

Most of you know by now I’m an avid gymnastics fan. The past few months have been super exciting in the gymnastics world: NCAA Championships, American Cup, European Championships, Pacific Rim Championships, and a host of World Cup competitions. Football, golf, motorcycle racing, and every other sport it seems has its own television channel. Why is there not a gymnastics channel??? It’s one of my biggest pet peeves.
Anyway, reading article upon article about the competitions (and watching routines on YouTube–you know, because there’s no TV channel, grrrrr) got me thinking about how much writers can learn from gymnastics. It’s a long list, so if you don’t stick around through the end, I won’t hold it against you. Much. ;)
Stretch. Sitting on our derrières, hands on the desk and eyes staring at the computer screen (or out the window…) causes physical stress. I get up and stretch or walk around at least every hour. Reading, journaling, and freewriting are excellent ways to also loosen and warm up my mind before writing and revising. 
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Flexibility. Monday I posted how I change my writing schedule and routine each month. I have rituals and a schedule I follow every day. But sometimes life gets in the way of writing. Some things can be controlled, and some things can’t. It’s important to adapt to those changes we can not control. Yesterday I wrote about James Scott Bell’s suggestion to make weekly goals. I decided to adapt that to my schedule. It allows for a lot more flexibility during the week for those times when something comes up to disturb my writing. 
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Spot My Landing. Whether it’s making a world championships team, winning an Olympic gold medal, or just landing a perfect dismount, gymnasts know what they’re aiming for. They envision their ultimate goal and see it happening. I remember to do this, too. I set small goals that build up to my ultimate goal. Right now I’m writing short stories, but I’m also plotting novel ideas. My goal is to have publishing credits from those short stories so I feel more confident when I ultimately write novels and seek an agent. Whatever the landing, it’s important to have an idea of where I want to plant my feet.
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Chalk Properly. Before performing their routines, gymnasts coat the apparatus, their hands and feet with chalk to remove perspiration. If the apparatus or their skin is not chalked properly, gymnasts may slip and fall. In writing, it’s vital to revise thoroughly before submitting. If you watch a gymnastics competition, you’ll notice gymnasts chalk their hands then face the apparatus as if they’re ready. But often they turn back to the chalking bucket and coat their hands one more time. Whenever I know my story is ready for submitting, I put it aside. Then I revise it again. 

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Accept Defeat Graciously. I cringe whenever I hear about a rejected writer who lashes out at the agent or editor. Don’t they realize they’re ruining their chances for publication? It’s embarrassing! It’s important for writers to be gracious and courteous no matter how angry we feel or if the situation is unfair. Right now I’m on the “losing” side of things, but some day I’ll be on the winning side. I must always behave humbly and graciously. Agents, editors, and writer friends may forget how you act when you win, but they always remember how you act when you lose. 

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Support Teammates. Gymnasts face world competition and also compete against teammates and friends. Writers face such “competition,” too. We have best friends, moms, or brothers who also write. Maybe your dad is published or your best friend kidnapped secured an agent. Maybe you’re the one with an agent and your friend has yet to be published. No matter the situation, writers need other writers. We push one another to improve our craft. We learn from each other about publishing industry dos and don’ts. Competition doesn’t have to be an unfavorable denotation (or connotation for that matter). No matter who “wins” first, the important thing is we all get there with encouraging, inspiring friends by our side. 
Practice Daily. Elite gymnasts win gold medals because they practice no matter how they feel. They practice 5-8 hours a day six days a week. They practice when they’re tired. They practice when their bodies ache. This, too, is essential for me. If I don’t create a schedule for myself, it’d be too easy to do anything except write. I get up with my husband. I go to work when he goes to work. I approach my writing like it’s a paying job, like someone expects me there and if I don’t show up I’ll get fired. I stick to my schedule and get done what needs to be done to achieve that ultimate prize.
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Balance. Gymnasts need good balance on the apparatus, and they need balance in their lives, too. Experiencing life outside the gym is just as important as their daily practices. I need a break from writing, too. My weekends are for catching up on reading, going out with my husband, and spending time with family and friends. I need to experience life so during the week, I have something to write about. 
Judging is Subjective. In gymnastics, a panel of judges decides how well they think the gymnast performed her skills. In writing, an agent or several editors decide if what you do is something they like or something they think will sell. Last Friday, I told you five novels I don’t care for. Does that mean they’re bad novels? NO! Many people think they’re the greatest books ever written. Writers put everything they’ve got into their work, so of course we take rejection personally. Just because an agent or editor rejects my story doesn’t mean I’m a horrible writer. Not everyone is going to like what I write. I try to remember what others think about my writing doesn’t make it true. Rejection tells me I must work harder, write better, and submit amazing stories that make it difficult for editors to say no! 
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On Perfection. Legend Nadia Comaneci would be the first to point out the tiny hop after her historic uneven bars routine. You know, the one where she achieved the first perfect 10 in Olympic competition. In gymnastics and in writing, it seems impossible to be truly perfect because where one person sees perfection, another sees flaws. How many of you are published? Do you rewrite parts of your story or novel before a scheduled public reading? I’d bet 45¢ most of you do. (Look, I’m a starving artist. Coins are all I have!) After awhile I need to let my stories be. I could spend the rest of my life revising. It would still never be perfect. All I can do is practice hard at writing and submit the best work I have at the time.
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"Set daily, monthly, and long-term goals. Don't ever be afraid to dream too big. Nothing is impossible. If you believe in yourself, you can achieve it." ~Nastia Liukin, USA, 2008 All-Around Olympic Champion

"It's not about winning or losing a competition, it's about beating the doubt from within yourself and knowing at the end of each day you are one step closer to your goals." ~Jonathan Horton, USA, 2008 Olympic Silver Medalist
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“It’s human nature to be timid in the face of obstacles, but I have learned to believe that challenges are opportunities for genius to shine. In order to feel alive, we have to accomplish things that we once believed we could not." ~Dominique Moceanu, USA, 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist 

"You can do anything you want to do, and you can be anyone you want to be as long as you're willing to work very hard." ~ Mary Lou Retton, USA, 1984 All-Around Olympic Champion

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"I don't run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run toward it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your feet." ~Nadia Comaneci, Romania, 1976 All-Around Olympic Champion

"Don't be afraid if things seem difficult in the beginning. That's only the initial impression. The important thing is not to retreat; you have to master yourself." ~Olga Korbut, USSR, 1972 Olympic Gold Medalist 
Share with me!
Do you have a favorite sport or hobby that teaches you something about writing? 


Bluestocking said...

Huh... never would have realized all the similarities. Thanks for initiating your blog readers into the wide world of gymnastics!

Alesa Warcan said...

Impressively executed parallel!
I love how you neatly landed the truths in this piece.

I long thought my calling to be something like Kyudô (zen archery) but I realized in my late teens that the world didn't need zen archers... But it was too late, I had shaped my mind to be like that of a zen archer... Now, although I follow another path, I find the focus and the discipline I forged back then to be an asset in everything I do. It also helps me avoid missing my marks (most of the time... well, sometimes).

catwoods said...


This was one of the best posts I've read on the topic of writing. You deserve a 10 for it!

Thanks so much for making me think as a writer. In particular about my landing. Your anology was perfect there.


T. Anne said...

How I wish I were that flexible! It's actually my goal this year to stretch more. I run but it's not the same.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Great points, here! And you're absolutely right. We have to be flexible or else it's not going to come together for us.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Emily said...

Hi lo,

I loved your analogies in this post. I have vivid memories of you as a gymnast, specifically when you told me how you learned to do back walkovers. You told me you used to go outside everyday and practice until you could finally do them perfectly. I think that shows some serious dedication which you are also exhibiting in your writing career!


Jen said...

I never would have related the two together, but it's brilliant that you did! I find it absolutely fascinating and I've learned a lot today!!! I don't have a sport or hobby that teaches me something about writing, at least I don't think I do... but now I'm wondering!

Laura Pauling said...

I think almost every aspect of my life makes a parallel to writing. Or really anything you have to work hard at it. GReat post. I loved the pictures!

Kimberly Franklin said...

I'm not really a sports person, but I LOVE you related the two. So smart of you!! ;)

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

Love the analogy. I always sucked at gymnastics but I loved dancing, so I can relate to a lot of your comparisons. ;)

Jemi Fraser said...

Love this post!

Once upon a time I was a (not very good) gymnast. We had those foldy mats we put on the hard gym floor where we were going to land our 'tricks'. Saw/heard more than one bone snap when the mats slid on impact. *shudder* Can you tell we weren't a rich area? :)

Jennifer Shirk said...

That is such a cool analogy!! I've started setting daily goals, too. I feel so much more productive when I do that. :)

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Laura, I was a runner in high school and college until I was injured. I have often equated my running to my writing. As I grew in my running, I transitioned into longer distances, from sprinting. Similarly, I'm heading in the direction of leaving the picture book world (for now anyway) to move into writing longer pieces. That's one of many parallels. But it would take a whole blog post to write it all down. :) Thanks for reminding me of the power of tapping into this mental resource. :)

Jody Hedlund said...

Beautifully done post, Laura! I particularly like the team effort point. I've learned so much from other writers and am incredibly encouraged by writing friends and blog posts like yours. We can all be winners in various ways--maybe we won't all get the gold, but if we work hard enough, we'll all be winners in the end.

Laura Marcella said...

Bluestocking- This was such a fun post to write combining two passions, writing and gymnastics!

Alesa- Wow, zen archery is awesome! I imagine many sports help us learn that kind of focus and commitment to continuously improve.

Cat- Thank you so much for your kind words!

T.Anne- If you're reading this right now, get up and stretch! Lol, I have to remind myself to stretch throughout the day!

Elizabeth- Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

Emy- Great seeing you here! I don't know if I could do handsprings or flips anymore, but I definitely know I can still do walkovers!!!

Shelley- Thank you. I'm glad I could introduce you to a new sport!

Jen- You probably do! It just takes some thought... this post took me a little while to write, haha.

Laura- You're right! Daily I'm thinking about how doing this and that relates to my writing life! I'm glad you liked the pictures!

Kim- Thank you very much!

Karen- Definitely I think dancing relates very well to the comparisons!

Jemi- Yikes! Luckily I've never broken bones or anything!

Jennifer- Absolutely! I love checking off the goals I've completed, haha.

Roxane- I used to run, too! I reached the highest level at my gym, but it was too expensive to continue at other gyms. Then I turned to cross country and track. I wasn't fast, but I loved running. Writing and running certainly do relate! I'm looking forward to a future post on your blog about it...!

Jody- That's my favorite, too. It's such a relief knowing others are going through the same things and knowing other writers are here to inspire and encourage and push us through. Thanks for your kind words!

kimberlyloomis said...

Excellent post. That quote from Nadia is so symbolic of both her country's outlook as well as rooted in philosophical truth. Love it. (Btw- I adore gymnastics as well!)

Laura Marcella said...

Kimberly- Thanks! I agree- Nadia is an inspiration for anyone working hard to achieve their dreams. I'm happy to find another gymnastics fan!

Palindrome said...

I once blogged about writing and figure skating at the Olympics...all that hardwork and sometimes you win the gold and other times you fall on you ace in front of the entire world. I covered the good and the bad. ;)

Laura Marcella said...

Palindrome- Oooh, thanks for sharing, I'll definitely check that out!