Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Good Grief Not Another Sports Metaphor

ABOVE: Duncan Keith, hot hockey dude who works out a lot.

Athletes train. Well, duh, you say. Of course athletes train. Everybody knows that.

I knew that, too. But until my Evil Best Friend dragged me into the dubious clutches of hockey fandom, I didn't realize how extensive, pervasive and consuming that training was.

I don't know what I thought, really. Maybe that they worked out an hour or so per day on off-season, maybe a little harder during the regular season, made sure they didn't gain too much weight, etc., etc. Honestly, I hadn't thought about it that much.

Then, between the end of last season and the beginning of Blackhawks training camp, I watched some video that was released into the wild documenting the regimens of several hockey players during the off-season. Heavy, carefully targeted workouts to help recover from injuries or surgeries. Skating while attached to bungee cords. Balance exercises. Yoga. Pilates. Shoving an entire weight rack across a parking lot (with the weights still on it, I might add). Eating 7 to 8,000 calories a day, mostly chicken and protein shakes, to deliberately build 20 pounds of muscle. Weightlifting—while wearing skates in the gym.

Seriously. These dudes are hard-core. Duncan Keith spent the summer working out with a trainer, and when he showed up for medical testing before training camp, he broke the bike. (That part isn't a metaphor. There was a bike. He broke it.)

The workout and training portion is every bit as important as the part where they go out on the ice and fight over the puck. Maybe more so. Because without that extra muscle, without the heavy conditioning and the balance and coordination and stick-handling drills, they can't perform when the puck is dropped.

My question, then, is why don't writers pursue the same kind of practice? Musicians do—they spend hours and hours at the practice space working through every detail of a song before they take it on stage. Painters spend years learning basic shapes and forms and emulating the work of established classical artists. But all too often, writers just scribble a story down and send it out, without considering the elements that make it work, or the basic skills they give a story strength and staying power.

I think many of us should reconsider this. Where are your weaknesses in your writing? Where could you focus to refine your abilities?

There are a lot of ways you could develop this training program. Take a workshop, online or in person. Read a book about craft. Read someone else's book and analyze their techniques. Figure out what works for you in other people's writing and incorporate it into your own. Pick a successful author and emulate his or her style for a short piece to see how it “feels.”

I think too often we get wrapped up in producing work to sell, and don't think about writing as a practice. Try it for a while—intersperse some craft building activities into your regular writing schedule and see what happens. Do it in the gym, on skates. Break that damn bike. And if you figure out how to work in that eating 7000 calories a day thing, let me know