Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
What Gymnastics Taught Me About Writing
It’s Archive Revive Day! I’m swamped with gymnastics coach training this month, so this re-post is appropriate…
Originally posted on Feb. 10, 2014. Updated Oct. 5, 2015
I had two childhood dreams – be a novelist and be a gymnast. I was a strange juxtaposition of sedentary nerd kid lying on the couch reading for hours, and spastic athletic kid jumping around the backyard practicing cartwheels and roundoffs and walking the wooden fence like it was a beam. In my 30s, I finally pursued my crazy dreams and discovered that though these disciplines seem like opposites, both require certain characteristics that, unfortunately, I didn’t yet possess.
I don’t think anyone in my life would describe me as a patient person. When I want something done, I do it as soon as possible. So when I set out to write a novel in a year, I was bitterly disappointed that a year later I still had no novel. And it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was writing lots, but I had more to learn than I thought, which meant the novel was taking much longer than expected. In fact, it was such a mess I couldn’t even predict when it would be done! The horror!
Similarly, when I started gymnastics, I thought I’d be able to compete at an entry level in a couple years, but I spent the first year just getting strong enough to execute even the most basic skills. I was frustrated with what I perceived as a lack of progress. Why was I taking so long to get good? Thing is, it wasn’t just me. Everyone else in the class was progressing at the same glacial rate because gymnastics is hard. Just like writing a novel is hard. To be a writer/gymnast, I needed patience to stick with it through years of suckage. Though that might seem obvious, it wasn’t to me, because I lacked something else…
I am lucky to be gifted with brains and coordination. School was easy. Sports came naturally. When I decided to become a writer I did so with confidence, because I’d been told my whole life that I had a talent for writing. When I took up gymnastics I expected to be good at it because back in the day I’d been recruited to the high school team even though I had no gymnastics training. But despite my natural talents, I wasn’t immediately awesome at either. Thankfully I recognized that, since the first step to becoming good at anything is to acknowledge you’re not yet great. Then you need the patience to practice and get better. I was working on that. But I was still missing something…
#3: Mental Strength.
Facing a blank page and facing a vault inspire the same emotion – fear. The first time my coach told me to run at the vault, launch off the beat board, catch myself on my spindly little arms, and flip over… well, I was terrified. I kept picturing my arms giving way and my face smashing into the vault. But there comes a point where you just have to go for it, trust the training exercises, and leap. As I ran at that vault, I decided to do the same with my writing. Instead of procrastinating all morning and well into the afternoon to avoid “falling on my face” and writing crap, I forced myself to leap at that blank page first thing. And yes, I did fall a few times, in writing and on the vault, but I got back up, faced down the fear, and did it again.
Fast forward a couple years later, and I feel like I’ve got a handle on humility and am getting better at mental strength, but I still struggle with patience. I wish I had a best selling novel published right now. I wish I could do a flawless trampoline routine tonight. I get to the gym and watch some 12-year-old do an amazing routine and feel crummy I can’t even do half that until the coach puts it in perspective – that kid has been training 20 hours a week for 7 years. Being great at something takes time. And patience. A whole lot of patience.
Heather is a cartoon screenwriter, YA novelist, small town fugitive, and late-blooming gymnast. For more, visit her website at heatherjacksonwrites.com or follow her on Twitter @HeatherJacksonW
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